Inside the Schools: Pioneer Innovative Design Team racing to the finish line


It’s not quite the Indy 500, but there will be plenty of action when another automotive competition comes to Ann Arbor in mid-Spring. And a group of Pioneer High School students will be among the competitors.

A team of young automobile engineers from Pioneer has been working together since October to build a 7-foot long, 2 ½-foot wide, aluminum-framed, battery-operated car from the ground up for the 2018 Square One Innovative Vehicle Design Mobility Challenge on May 19.

There’s still plenty of work to do in the next two months before the competition at Ann Arbor’s Mcity on the north campus of the University of Michigan, but the group of 15 students are sure they will get the job done in time.

“Even if it takes an all-nighter the night before the competition, we’ll be ready,” said Team Leader Masaki Hada, a 17-year-old junior at Pioneer who has a busy weekend planned. “I’m going to prom the night before the competition, but I’m sure after I’m done with that, I’ll be there to work on the project with the team.”

Hada, and the rest of his team hope it doesn’t come down to the wire, but there’s a chance that it could. He wants to make sure it’s ready. After all, he will be driving the car.

“With any project, you’re probably not as much on schedule as you’d like to be, but we’ve made a lot of progress in the past couple of weeks,” Hada said. “There were some issues with the frame, but we’re past that now. The frame is almost done, and then we’ll really be able to get going.”

About 25 schools typically compete at the IVD Mobility Challenge, but the Pioneer team is a little bit different.

“I’d say there only about two or three public schools there,” Hada said. “And the rest of the teams are doing it as part of an engineering class. Our IVD team is extra-curricular, we’re doing it all on our own time.”

And there’s plenty of time involved. Just ask Pioneer engineering teacher Marty Moreno, who sponsors the IVD Team.

“We work on it every Tuesday and Friday for three hours in the shop next to my room (Room E-107), and then we sometimes come in on Saturday for seven hours,” said Moreno, who is sponsoring the Pioneer IVD Team for the first time. “We’ve been at it since October, so that’s about 186 hours if you do the math. And there probably are 100 hours left to go, so that’s quite a bit of work these kids are doing.

“Luckily I’ve got some great parent volunteers who come and oversee them when I can’t make it. It’s a great team effort.”

The team-effort aspect is one of the great parts of the IVD project, according to Helen Brush, a 15-year-old sophomore and one of four girls on the Pioneer team.

“It’s not just a bunch of guys, there’s a few girls, too,” Brush said. “You meet some people you might not have otherwise talked to, or might not have ever met.

“At the same time, you’re working on this amazing project. It’s really a lot of fun.”

There was only one girl on the IVD team last year, but Brush and her friend Tess Gonnper thought it would be fun to join together in 2017-18.

“I’ve been interested in engineering, and this really give you a good experience, good exposure to how concepts apply in the real world,” said Brush, who currently has a 4.0 grade-point average.

The Pioneer IVD team is broken into six teams: frame, brakes, drive, suspension, electronics and computer. Each works on a specific part of the car. Brush is on the electronics team, and when she explains what she’s been working on, you can tell these aren’t your average kids.

“We’ve made an ultrasonic sensor using an arduino microprocessor that we use for blind-spot monitoring,” she said. “An LED light lights up when something is in your blind spot.”

Square One’s “Signature Series” of projects enable high school students to incorporate innovation and engineering into their design of a wide variety of complex vehicles at Mcity, a testing ground on the U-M campus. This family of Innovative Vehicle Design projects provide students with a real-world, authentic learning opportunity. That’s what Hada likes most about the IVD team.

“I remember sitting in geometry class learning to measure angles of a triangle, and wondering when I would ever need to know this stuff,” said the IVD Team leader. “Then, literally a couple weeks later, I was using it to help build the frame of the car.

“It was quite an eye-opening moment for me.”

There’s sure to be plenty of eye-openers at the IVD competition on May 19. It’s an all-day affair and the cars will be tested on weight, endurance, safety and other categories.

“This is my fourth year, and it’s always been a lot of fun,” said Hada, who caries a 3.8 GPA. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun.”


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