I recently had the opportunity to meet the winning team of a national high-school student contest called DASH+, which challenged high school teams to design the vehicle dashboard of the future –a dashboard that provides visual feedback that would help drivers maximize fuel efficiency and reduce environmental impact. The contest is part of the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE, a $10 million competition to inspire a new generation of super-efficient vehicles. The Department of Energy sponsored the contest as part of its commitment to education, and in particular its commitment to engage students in the topics of renewable energy and energy efficiency.
A team from Santa Barbara, California, known as Team EDV Technologies—made up of three high school students and their mentor—won the competition. Their dashboard design includes a unique feature called Green Points, which rewards eco-friendly driving. (See more about the contest and the top entries here.)
Although the program was designed to inspire students, I found that the students inspired me! I spent a lot of time with them during their trip to Detroit to meet with leaders in the automotive industry, government, and academia.
On the first day, the team unveiled its eco-friendly dashboard to a panel of auto experts, including representatives from Ford and General Motors. The team spoke with such confidence and precision I had to keep reminding myself that they were still in high school. The team also toured the Ford Rouge Factory, to see the final assembly process for the Ford F-150 truck. As they toured the factory, you could see their innovative minds at work, probably calculating metrics and formulas to integrate their winning dashboard into the Ford assembly line.
The winning students also participated in a workshop at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit to learn about automotive design and how to take their dashboard to the next level. While at the college they were also able to speak with the admissions counselor, who offered sound advice on developing a portfolio and pursuing a career in transportation design. Though still in high school, these students were already starting to see how their project could lead to careers in automotive engineering and design.
The final day included a tour of the Environmental Protection Agency testing facility in Ann Arbor, and at the Michigan International Speedway, where the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE competition teams were testing their self-made, eco-friendly cars right on the race track. There they got the ultimate hands-on experience of enjoying a lap around the oval.
The night ended with an awards ceremony that highlighted Team EDV Technologies’ winning dashboard design and the Department of Energy’s commitment to inspiring youth across the country .
It was great to meet the students. And I won’t be surprised to see them—or some of the thousands of other students who are learning about alternative fuels, automotive design, and efficiency through designing the cars of the future down the road.
Connie Bezanson is Education and Outreach Technology Manager for the Vehicles Technology Program at the U.S. Department of Energy