Students explored the building blocks and design of electric vehicles—and considered how such transport could change the world—during the January 2017 Independent Activities Period.

The class was comprised of two parts. Faculty and researchers from the mechanical engineering and electrical engineering departments, as well as a roster of industry experts from Optimus Ride, Google[x], Zipcar, and more, lectured on topics ranging from battery pack design and motor controllers to market trends and cost challenges. The lectures also delved into areas for future application of such technologies—urban mobility, autonomous vehicles, and energy storage.

But it was in the hands-on lab segment of the class where the rubber met the road, so to speak. A smaller cohort of engineering students met on five mornings to tinker with the elements of electric vehicles using lithium-ion batteries, as well as both ride and take apart small EVs such as scooters and skateboards. A second lab option organized teams over the course of a few weeks to build and race electric go-karts on an indoor track. Instructor Lennon Rodgers SM ’06, PhD ’13, a research scientist at the MIT International Design Center, promised students at the outset: “Through this you’ll learn the basics of DIY electric vehicles. It’s not a huge stretch to go from here to a car—just a lot more time and money.”

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