By: Marlana Ward
Johnson County High School students are joining other automotive and science students from around the region in exploring solar energy and how to harness that power into practical uses. With the introduction of a solar kart construction and competition team, JCHS has purposed to provide its students with an avenue to explore the future of automotives and energy beyond the classroom.
Career and Technical Education Director, Herbie Adams, became aware of the solar kart challenge project while at a director’s meeting with other area school administrators. A grant was awarded for JCHS to begin the project and once the budget was set, plans began for the school’s first solar kart development team.
The project got officially underway when JCHS automotive instructor, David South, picked up the starter kit containing only a bare steel frame in August. South was the ideal person to head up the project for JCHS not only due to his extensive knowledge as an automotive instructor, but also because of his decades of drag racing experience.
From the beginning, the students have had to learn how parts of a kart go together and the best methods of assembly for function and speed. “That’s part of the design process,” said South. “We have to make it as efficient and light weight as possible because it is going to be solar and DC powered. They are leaving us with some latitude on how we build it.” The students have already made their own modifications for weight reduction. Unneeded brackets and lights have been removed and the safety seat and harness have been custom fitted for their vision of the project.
While the students were given a broad overview of how their kart should work and a list of requirements and regulations they must conform to, there is a great deal of freedom in how the team can modify their kart using the information they glean from research and testing. “In automotives you’re always problem solving. That’s part of what we do as auto mechanics. We listen to customer complaints and figure out how to resolve those problems and issues,” South explained. “We’re looking at some problems with this project that will enhance these student’s awareness on how to solve issues.”
The team has been researching a variety of solar panel, battery, and motor arrangements to find the best option for success. The placement of each component will be researched and discussed by the team, as each decision will be a major factor of the kart’s operation and responsiveness.
Once the kart is operational, the team will test on a variety of surfaces. By testing the handling of the kart in different conditions and with different drivers, the students will be better able to make decisions on how to get the best possible performance from their kart on the day of the competition. “We don’t know what the conditions are going to be” said South. “Whether it be overcast or a bright, sunny day, we will have to make adjustments based on what data we have gotten.”
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