2.007 Reflection: Part IV

I still can’t believe that MelonKart was conceived as an idea, fabricated, outfitted with electronics and thoroughly tested within a semester. To be fair, David and I worked round-the-clock on MelonKart and our effort paid off. Especially when I consider the amount of attention MelonKart has already gotten.

Charles recommended that I focus on the following areas in my reflection piece.

  • Assessment of your machine’s performance.
  • Comparison to other machines and designs.
  • Gauge your own learning

But I’m adding one last section – a reflection as half of the only team project in the EV section. I think David and I have some powerful things to say to the incoming EV sections of the future – if you want to make a bad-ass, large vehicle you’re going to need more than $300 and one set of hands to do it. But there’s more you should consider as well.

PART IV: REFLECTION AS HALF OF THE ONLY EV TEAM PROJECT … 

Continue after the jump.

PART IV: REFLECTION AS HALF OF THE ONLY EV TEAM PROJECT

David and I had the advantage of going into the 2.007 EV section with the knowledge that we could work together on a work-intensive project that needed to be finished in a short time frame. Matt Gildner, my original mentor – sorry Charles, had recruited us to work on the Marine Robotics Team as freshmen. David started on the project IAP of Freshmen Year, I started Spring of Freshmen Year. We both stuck around for the summer and helped Matt survive a whirlwind of activity as we worked to get a functional prototype. Since then, Matt has moved on to be a grad student (ie. not-yet-a-real-person-but-closer-than-an-undergrad) and I have taken over as the team’s captain. David and I are still building gliders but now with the help of a crew of excited froshlings, Tommy Moriarty, Grace Young, Manyu Belani and John DiMino.

But we also went into the 2.007 EV section expecting to work on separate vehicles. I had my heart set on building a steel-frame go kart (with a roll bar) and David had his eye on a sad mini-bike living in the corner of MITERS that desperately needed some love. We researched parts. We did the math. We did the math again. We scoured eBay. But we couldn’t make the numbers add up.

We both wanted to build an awesome vehicle. We didn’t want to ‘tone it down’ to stay within the 2.007 EV section’s budget. With $300, you didn’t get very far. Especially trying to build a steel-frame go kart. That’s when we decided to team up. We spent approximately half of our combined funds on the motor and motor controller and we were extremely thrifty with the other half. We were buying-our-steel-tubing-off-of-ebay thrifty. We were digging-MIT-FSAE’s-discarded-seat-cushions-out-of-the-trash thrifty. We were pleading-with-Shavi-so-he-would-give-us-an-old-FSAE-seat-belt-harness thrifty. And we just barely made it under budget. Well, we did get the high-speed upgrade on the motor controller. And we did buy a car horn for MelonKart. And a flag! But those were necessary expenses.

It think  it is appropriate to remind everyone that A123 donated the batteries we put on MelonKart. We spent $600 on everything else. David and I pinched as many pennies as we could and for good reason.

I consider our efforts a success because we …

  • Built a functioning MelonKart
  • Stayed within budget
  • Divided the work evenly – in a way that kept us both busy, both engaged in mechanical and electrical things, and both working on something neat that we had complete ownership of

For future 2.007 students who are considering working as a team, consider what you’re getting yourself into. I think working as a team comes with a different set of challenges. Especially when undertaking a project of this magnitude.

In my opinion, the most challenge aspects were:

  • Keeping the costs down, even with twice the typical budget
  • Narrowing down the ideas we had
  • Finishing in the allotted time (ie. by the appropriate checkpoints and by the end of the semester)
  • Recognizing what we needed to do, individually, to finish the project

Re: narrowing down the ideas we had. David and I agreed that we would be very realistic about what we could and could not do with the money and time we had. But we are also very ambitious – it was difficult sometimes to keep this ambition in check. I still think a roll bar would probably have been a smart move but it wasn’t sometime we had time or resources for. There were a lot of similar ideas that were really good ideas that didn’t make the final cut.

Re: finishing in the allotted time. I have a lot to say on this – please bear with me. We finished MelonKart because we took advantage of every opportunity to work. Charles and Shane held lab M/F from 7-9pm and office hours W from 7-9pm. David and I missed probably no more than two lab sessions and two office hour sessions. But for every lab or office hour session we attended, we would spend usually an extra 2-4 hours in N52 working on MelonKart. We also pulled all-nighters on Fridays and worked on the weekend. I remember spending St. Patrick’s Day doing the initial machining on David’s steering column designs. We WOULD NOT and COULD NOT have finished if we worked only on MelonKart during lab time or office hours. If you’re going to sign up to do an electric vehicle (especially a go kart) be aware of this. It is an amazing experience but it will require your blood, your sweat, your tears and your Friday nights.
Re: recognizing what we need to do, individually, to finish the project. Again, I have a lot to say here. I think it is was easy to identify what was my responsibility and what was David’s responsibility when it came to our individual projects. I was working on the drive train and David was working on the steering. Design things for steering was his responsibility, I was there to help with the fabrication if needed. Design things on the drive train was my responsibility, David was there to help put everything together if needed. This was fairly black-and-white. The frame was one of the most exciting parts about MelonKart so we were both there all of the time trying to get the steel cut and prepped for welding. Then welding, oh welding was fun.

But what about the gray areas? I remember the day we started putting all the electronics together I was tired and cranky re: all of the other work I had in my life. And for the most part, I put in 40% while David was putting in 60%. It wasn’t until the next day, when I was milling around in N52 that I realized (with the help of Shane) that we hadn’t put in a direct line to power for Logic or a Logic Switch. I spent a few hours fixing this. David showed up to class later and was pleasantly surprised. He felt bad that I had to undertake this on my own – it was tedious and did take up time. But I countered with the fact that I hadn’t been pulling my weight the night before with electronics. He then admitted that he would have felt disappointed because the work had been shared unevenly if it wasn’t for this burst act of electronics-activity on my part. This is a great example of how sometimes the work load can’t be split 50-50. Or 25-25-25-25 or 33-33-33. Time is a big factor but effort is just as important. You can be there physically, but if you’re not matching your teammate(s) in effort level you’re not pulling your weight.

So would I do it again? Definitively. Because Charles and Shane were amazing mentors and 2.007 is one of my favorite things at MIT but more importantly, David made a great teammate. I think we did pretty well for ourselves, don’t you agree?

MelonKart passes rolling inspection. (Oh and less importantly – David and I are also in this picture)

David and I try to explain MelonKart to the 2.007 Film Crew.

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