Student innovation recognised at EVolocity National Finals

The EVolocity National Finals were recently held at the Air Force Museum in Christchurch, giving school students from across the country the chance to race the electric vehicles they built throughout the year.

Professor Kevin Sowerby and Dr Duleepa Thrimawithana assessing a competitor's vehicle. Photo credit: Deni Archer.

The event was a culmination of a year’s work for the students, after the competition kicked off in March at our Newmarket Campus. After a number of build days and regional finals, the highest performing teams were then invited to Christchurch to compete in the national finals.

What started off as a wet Saturday morning eventually cleared enough to allow most entries to contest the full range of events. However, the wet track did mean some builds - like a particularly impressive looking creation from Mahurangi College - didn’t run, as students were concerned about water damaging expensive controllers that were exposed to the elements.

Competitors were spread across three distinct classes - bike, cart and open - and included everything from experienced schools contesting every class to first-time entrants just trying to ensure their vehicle lasted the day. Just like Formula SAE, the competition consists of static and dynamic events, so there’s a chance for teams to focus on their strengths and plenty of opportunity for a team’s hard work to be recognised.

Two of our departments support specific awards, both of them in the Innovation Category. The Department of Mechanical Engineering sponsored the Most Innovative: Engineering Excellence and Innovation category. Dr Eva Hakansson was the Department’s representative and judge for the event, and the standard of work was so high that two schools tied for first place: Tauhara College from Taupo for their clever mechanical design, and Henderson High from West Auckland for creating a vehicle that had been excellently designed and analysed.

Dr Hakansson also picked three honourable mentions from teams that had impressed her over the course of the day. They were:

Onslow College: Their wooden design was described as “outstanding” and was extremely noticeable amongst the other carts.
Mana College: The team made a “bold and innovative” mood by designing and competing in a monocycle - the only example of one in the whole competition.
Howick College: Essentially a solo effort by one passionate student, Eva highlighted the gear train that had been machined especially for the vehicle.

The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering sponsored the Most Innovative: Measurement, Display and Transmission of Performance Data. The awards were based on written material the teams provided, talking to the groups of students and seeing equipment working as intended. Professors Kevin Sowerby and Patrick Hu, and Dr Duleepa Thrimawithana spent the day judging the many entries, eventually awarding the prize to Waimea College. When presenting the award, Professor Sowerby noted the build was particularly impressive because the team was made up of Year 10 and 11 students.  

Dr Eva Hakansson presenting to Mana College. Photo credit: Deni Archer.

The students and teachers we spoke to throughout the course of the event were all extremely invested in the performance of their vehicles after carefully designing and building them over the course of the school year. Despite battling against the weather, various mechanical issues and their fellow competitors, some of the students still found time to reflect on what the competition has taught them and what they could improve next year.

“I think it was trying to work with compromise,” a member of Henderson High School’s team said. “Things go wrong all the time, so it was the ability to go 'alright, how are we going to solve this problem and fix it?' Then once you get it wrong again you keep going, keep being persistent with that.”

As another student from the same team talked about what they think they can do differently to improve their vehicle and its chances in the competition.

“I think next year is just learning to get things done on time, so we can test, test, test and test,” he explained. “Then we’ll be refining a few designs making sure it's suitable for the loads and stresses that will be going through them.”

EVolocity aims to get school students interested in electric vehicle technology, and helps them develop the kinds of skills that could lead them into careers in Engineering. For example, in the 2018 Survey of EVolocity participants, 90 per cent of students said they learnt new Engineering skills over the course of their projects, while 73 per cent discovered new electronic skills.

Find out more about the overall winners.