PowerWheels rock Detroit MakerFaire

by Ben N on August 2, 2011

(Please note: there are VIDEOS at end of this posting!)

This weekend was the Detroit Maker Faire !

Other members of the Milwaukee MakerSpace and I were out in force to participate in the PowerWheels Racing Series, an event where adults modify, beef-up, soup-up, and compete, driving kids electric cars.

This year, the competition was fierce! While I usually blog about electric cars in terms of ecology and practical transportation, the EV GRIN goes into overdrive when anyone is on a modified PowerWheels! Last year’s Detroit MakerFaire was the first time I was involved. I started the project that became the “Baby Burrito” Humvee, but due to time restraints and other responsibilities, I endedup passing the torch to fellow Maker Sean. This year, the Milwaukee Makerspace returned with our original racers, GRAVEDIGGER, BIG JAKE, THE LITTLE PINK TRIKE, and BABY BURRITO.

Kerry posing with Gravedigger

Team Baby Burrito - Sean & Amanda

Ready to start the 3rd heat of the Grand Prix

This year’s race had plenty more teams to battle against than last year. The track was loaded and the crowds were wild! The racing REALLY DOES feature all the thrills and spills of the big races, minus the budget…… and the gasoline.

The most memorable moment may have been when GRAVEDIGGER drive Kerry actually ROLLED GRAVEDIGGER! She was fine – just a few scratches and bruises, but it just goes to show that these are NO LONGER kids toys once we are done with them!

Tom racing on the Little Pink Trike

I was the backup drive for GRAVEDIGGER during the endurance race. That’s the race that REALLY tests how well the cars are built. While driving, I lost a front wheel tire stem, which could have taken us out of the race, if it weren’t for us digging up another pair of skinnier wheels that happened to fit the front axel. A few laps later, the steering let loose. Fortunately, I was near the pits, and a few minutes and a new nut were all it took to fix.

Overall, Tom took home the gold in the Drag Race in the Little Pink Trike, Gravedigger took the overall third place award, and Kerry walked away with the Crash & Burn Trophy, built mostly from a hunk of burned-up electric motor.

Mr. Speed has to go slow as the pace car

When the race track wasn’t in use, the Thunderdome scooter racing took over. There was also two impromptu races of all the other unusual mobile machines at the MakerFaire (outside of human power, they were almost exclusively electric.) Those included a solar car, built from cheap Harbor Freight solar kits, a Cupcake, the HG Wells Time Machine, a racing Sofa, a life-size hamster wheel, and more. Did I mention the electric racing cycle?

My other highlight of the trip was meeting Tony. He was there showing off his home-built electric motorcycle. But it wasn’t just any cycle, it was a Lithium-powered TTXGP racer! Not bad for one young guy building it himself! The cycle is gorgeous – Top speed of over 100 MPH, and a 60 mile range! Tony is in the Chicago area and now works for Tesla because of his work on the cycle.

Electric motorcycle on display at MakerFaire Detroit

Pack those kilowatts in there!

I’m hoping to interview him for the upcoming BUILD YOUR OWN ELECTRIC MOTORCYCLE instructional video. Check out Tony’s excellent blog about the cycle at: http://experimentalev.wordpress.com/

After the MakerFaire, the “decompression day” was to visit Greenfield Village at THE HENRY FORD. I really didn’t know anything about it before visiting, but it is more or less an “old-timey” living history museum covering several hundred years of American History. The main feature is the historical buildings of both industry and homes. Everything from sawmills and forges to log cabins and schools. Watch yourself crossing streets, because Model T’s are driving around all day!

I also knew that Henry Ford was a Fan of Thomas Edison, but I didn’t know that he BOUGHT EDISON’S LAB and MOVED it to Michigan! Some of the buildings were original, some reproductions, and ones like the lab were sort of a blend of both. Pretty strange to go to Detroit to race kids electric cars, and end up walking through Thomas Edison’s Lab! In the one building, Thomas Edison visited late in his life, and spoke seated. Afterwards, Ford had Edison’s chair nailed to the floor. It’s been un-touched in the same spot ever since. The floor even looks different right there. When the floor eventually had to be redone, carpenters simply worked around it.

Edison Generator Plant

Edison's Lab

Thomas Edison's Chair

Strange to be in a place soo oozing with history.

Ever wonder why a hunk of conductive carbon on a motor is called a brush? I always thought that was odd, but it must have originally been more “brush-like”. Sure enough, looking at some old Edison generators, they actually had real brushes!

Kinda looks like a paint brush, doesn't it?

Take a look at this video clip to get a better idea of what it’s like to race a modified PowerWheels!

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