Teens build electric car powered by Twitter, Facebook posts

Converting old gas-powered cars to run on electricity has become easy enough that Minddrive, a Kansas City non-profit, has made such conversions part of an after-school education program for inner-city teen-agers. For this year's project, Minddrive decided to set a higher bar by challenging the students to build a car powered by tweets and Facebook posts.

In the past several years, Minidrive has converted three other vehicles to EV, then taken them on cross-country drives. For most of the students, the lessons start with the basics of how to handle an angle grinder or power drill and move onto more complicated tasks, like improving aerodynamics or cutting weight safely. And the students are encouraged to keep a record of their progress in words and pictures. "We teach them about math and science, technology and environment through hands-on projects," says Stephen Rees, Minddrive CEO.

Starting with a busted 1967 Karmann Ghia, the 21 students from five Kansas City-area schools stripped the car to the bare metal, then rebuilt it, swapping the original Volkswagen engine for a lithium-ion battery pack and electric motor. Once those systems were installed, they linked a small tablet computer to the circuitry, which controls the power flow via mentions of the Minddrive project on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube and converts them into "social watts." A new Twitter follower counts for five watts; liking a photo on Instagram adds 1 watt.

The team plans to use that energy driving from Kansas City to Washington next week as a promotional tour of Minddrive and hands-on education programs. To get across the country, they'll need to collect 71,040 social watts; and as of today they're still more than 50,000 watts short, although they expect some help from corporate sponsors.

Minddrive's plans also call for having the students' replicate their work with the Ghia to build a low-speed, neighborhood EV kit car by fabricating a body from fiberglass and other lightweight materials. It's a novel way to discover that the best lessons come from the journey, not the destination. To follow the students' progress, go here.

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