Is there any better way to encourage innovation than a contest? Offer a prize for inventing or improving something, whether there's a cash prize involved or not, and that most basic of human instincts — competitiveness — will kick in and take care of the rest. And if the intent is to motivate and inspire the next generation of scientists and green thinkers, then make the contest something ridiculously fun and edgy by making it a go-kart race in which all of the karts must be electric-powered. Simply put, science and technology nerds (myself included) love competition, and love go-kart racing. Combine the two, and the end result will be a range of superlatively innovative, creative, and just plain cool electric go-karts, or "personal vehicles."

This must be the thinking behind the first annual Electric Vehicle Grand Prix, or evGrandPrix, hosted by Purdue University, funded in part by a $6 million federal grant. The evGrandPrix was organized by University students enrolled in EV-related courses, and by students from EPICS, the Electric Vehicle Engineering Projects in Community Service group at Purdue. This contest is a bit unusual in that it's not just a go-kart race where the fastest go-kart wins. Indeed, EPICS teams must design, build, and race their personal electric vehicles, but they also must effectively market their vehicle and the competition to the community, government agencies, and industry partners and sponsors.

The race itself will be held this April 18, and will consist of two 50-lap segments with a mandatory pit stop between the segments for battery pack swaps and any required modifications or enhancements. Teams will be scored much like Olympians are scored — how they place in the race (50%), power efficiency (25%), vehicle design (15%) and community outreach/marketing (10%). With the evGrandPrix less than a month away, EPICS teams are putting the finishing touches on their high-tech electric karts, but the contest itself is still welcoming sponsors.

So far, the evGrandPrix has attracted more than a dozen teams from the school. Despite the fact that this is a contest, the spirit of competition hasn't kept the teams from sharing secrets. The forums section at the evGrandPrix site (and their Facebook page) are busy with chatter, with teams introducing themselves, showing off progress on their karts, and even exchanging tips, tricks, and ideas on everything from batteries and controllers to wiring diagrams and frames. This spirit of community will likely extend to the race itself, which may have been part of the organizers' plans along.

To find out more about sponsorship opportunities, contact Steve Shelby at Purdue's School of Chemical Engineering at [email protected].

Source: evGrandPrix website
with additional info from Emil Venere at Purdue Press
Photo from evGrandPrix Facebook album