AHS students race handmade cars

Published 8:44 am Tuesday, November 1, 2011

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Driving a car is scary enough. Try driving one your friends and classmates made.

That’s what Austin High School senior Kevin Sauer did Friday afternoon. Sauer and the rest of the Principles of Technology class thought the Supermileage Car prototype they were working on was good enough to take for a spin.

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It didn’t go quite as well as they had hoped. Sauer drove the wooden car for less than one lap around the Austin High School Annex parking lot before pieces flew off and the car stopped moving.

“Last year’s Supermileage car didn’t move,” said David Erdahl, AHS senior. “To get (this one) to run is an accomplishment. We’ve still got a lot of time.”

The supermileage car, a one-person fuel-efficient vehicle, is but one piece in the growing Principles of Technology class at AHS. Created in part due to Robotics Club interest, the class teaches students college-level engineering skills in a practical, hands-on way.

“It’s nice that we have two hours designated during the day that we can work on the robot, work on the Supermileage vehicle,” said Ryan Stanley, career and technical education teacher and class co-instructor.

Students design the car prototype in the fall, then switch to Robotics by December. In the Robotics unit, students will design a fully functioning robot to participate in several mini-contests based on last year’s Robotics Club’s competitions. That means constructing a robot out of materials like fiberglass and aluminum, and installing wiring and computer gadgetry to make it work. In other words, students learn about pneumatics, hydraulics, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, computer programming and more through making robots.

“If you’ve got motivated kids, they’ll find things to do,” said Mark Raymond, AHS science teacher and class co-instructor.

AHS students Jesse Johnson, Alex Podorov and Carlos Olivarez were busy Friday building the mini-robot which will be used in a mini-competition in mid-November. They’ve designed a robot with two wheels spinning towards each other so the robot can attach itself to and climb a steel pole.

“At the Robotics competition, this is kind of the main thing to score points,” Podorov said.

Students are taking time out of their day to work on these projects, just like in Robotics Club. Erdahl and his brother Neil used their study hall Friday to check the Supermileage car’s engine and adjust several motor parts. The Erdahls got into Robotics Club because of Raymond, but they found the technology interesting and liked tinkering with machines. Though they plan on studying agriculture after high school, they are glad for the tech opportunities in class.

“It’s a great way to learn leadership skills and test your ideas,” Neil said.

The Erdahls aren’t alone in their support of the class. Sauer, who wants to study engineering after high school, said he was grateful to learn college-level concepts now.

“This is what I want to do,” he said.