It's not just for the extracurriculars.
The race started in France before spreading to Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Australia, and the U.S. The cars are hydrogen-powered, and the drivers are kids with remote controls. It's the (H2AC), an endurance race that lets young engineers learn about the technology behind fuel cell vehicles by building 1:10 scale cars and pushing them to their limits. A group of students in Southern California has taken on the challenge and is prepping for the race right now. But the reasons why go beyond having an afterschool club for college applications.
The company behind H2AC, (an arm of ), wants to tackle some of the biggest challenges of the 21st century, specifically climate change. Seeing renewable energy as a solution, Horizon has designed educational programs like H2AC to teach sustainable practices to students.
CEO Timo Lukkarinen says the first thing the students in the program talk about is climate change and what scientific evidence says about it. They have the opportunity to debate and understand the scientific findings on the issue. "We really are at a tipping point, and we need to make sure we do something, or it might actually have big consequences for us," Lukkarinen says. "While there is a small part of political will talking against it, we need to make sure that within our educational system, we're actually educating [to recognize] signs—not beliefs."
There's a lot of emphasis on sustainability and alternate forms of energy production in many school's curriculums right now. With the launch of the hydrogen-powered , Toyota was looking for ways to get involved in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math—the addition of "A" for art is vital to computer-aided engineering design) education at the high-school level, and partnered with Horizon to bring its H2AC program to the West Coast in 2016.
After discussing climate change and its impact on ecosystems and societies around the world, the students take a look at the solutions. The H2AC program goes through experiments to compare renewable energy technologies and storage—a segue into hydrogen fuel cells and how the technology is being used in cars like the Mirai. The students are then tasked with assembling their own 1:10 scale remote-controlled FCV.
Mirai owners in California get involved, too, as mentors and consultants to the students while they design their FCV. They bring their Mirai to the sessions so the students can check out the car, peer under the hood, and connect what they're building to its real-world application.
"A lot of times at school, you're working on theory or working out problems in a book or in a classroom and don't get the practical application," says Toyota brand manager Nathan Kokes. "But here, they literally get their hands on the model and see how it takes shape in the real world."
"We have rules for the competition, but anything that's not stated in the rules is open for modification," says Lukkarinen. The students build the RC cars using Himoto chassis while taking Toyota's design principles into consideration. They then learn how to drive it, how to calculate its energy efficiency, and start putting together race strategies that include fuel planning.
The RC car's fuel cell system, a with , store hydrogen in solid form in a low-pressure, non-compressed compartment and charges the battery while the car is driving. As you can see from this , building a Mirai is a tad bit more difficult. Kokes says only ten Mirais are built a day.
"The enthusiasm and passion—you almost have to hold them back sometimes because they want to do more and more and more," says Kokes. "It's incredible. It's a great position to be in, to let them go—and they exceed your expectations. It's amazing to watch."
The program aims to have an effect that reaches outside the classroom. Creating products that give back to the community, like alternative energy cars, is something the founders of Toyota believed should be in the company's mantra. "Our current line—'Let's go places'—is a community mindset," says Kokes. "It's not, 'You will do it by yourself;' it's 'Let's do it together. Let's move forward together.' The theme of innovation is inherent in [this partnership with Horizon], because we're continuing to strive and make things better."
The best reason? No final exam. Instead, after months of designing and constructing a fuel cell car, the program culminates in a four-hour endurance race (complete with ) against other participating schools to test the car's performance. This year, the race will be held at the NSTA National Conference in L.A.