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6 Sep 2018, 9:42

The Blair Project and the ProtoEV Challenge, Racing Towards a Brighter Future

When DesignSpark learned of the ProtoEV Challenge, the UK’s first STEM competition for schools, colleges and apprentices where youngsters turn used petrol go-karts into high-powered electric vehicles and then race them, we had to learn more. We contacted Marilyn Comrie OBE, an award-winning entrepreneur and former BBC TV producer and a member of The Blair Project team, the brains behind the ProtoEV Challenge, to tell us all about this great concept and what it hopes to achieve.

What is The Blair Project?

The Blair Project was originally set up in March 2014 to champion grassroots motor racing talent and challenge the status quo in motorsport which is very much elitist. Our social enterprise was founded by Nile Henry at the tender age of 18. He’d grown tired and frustrated at seeing so many talented young drivers like his brother Blair, having to abandon their motor racing careers due to lack of money. Nile was inspired by the grit and determination of his younger brother Blair, who financed his early kart racing career selling sweets and drinks at school and refused to give up.

Nile wanted to create a more level playing field where talent could shine through. He aims to make motorsport more inclusive, affordable and accessible to young people, especially girls, from disadvantaged communities, creating pathways to rewarding careers as drivers, mechanics and engineers and in STEM-related industries.

Over the years, the focus has changed to the provision of STEM education & vocational skills training using the power and exhilaration of motorsport to engage and enthuse young people of all ages. Here, they can learn about engineering & emerging technologies as well as enjoying practical opportunities for hands-on tinkering. This winning formula makes pupils, students, trainees and apprentices want to learn, improve and innovate.

The Blair project is disrupting the way vocational training & education is delivered to make it more relevant to the challenges of the 21st-century job market, where skills shortage are most acute. Our mission is to boost the size of the STEM workforce by providing project-based learning opportunities where people can solve real-world problems using the latest available technologies. This learning through doing approach is designed to accelerate the gears of engineering, manufacturing and innovation to ensure the Northern economy flourishes and is firing on all cylinders.

Blair Project Achievements

  • Given the Royal Seal of Approval by HRH Prince Harry in July 2016.
  • 3 x ProtoEV prototype eKarts will be exhibited at the World’s first Zero Emission Summit 11-12 Sep 3028 at the NEC in Birmingham as a flagship Year of Engineering project, at the request of UK government. This is the largest international exhibition for the electric vehicle sector. Exhibiting will enable ProtoEV partners and funders to gain exposure under a consistent “British” brand to international event delegates, which will include government officials, media, research partners, investors and major industry players. 
  • Developed concept for the first Manchester Festival of eSpeed which will be partly funded by Transport for Greater Manchester which will take place in summer 2019, and act as an annual showcase for innovations in low-carbon electric vehicle innovations and technologies that ordinary people and families can see, touch and experience. Manchester is well placed to be a centre of excellence for the development and deployment of these advanced new vehicle technologies, thanks to devolution, close collaboration between industry, public sector bodies, academia and adjacent sectors, most notably tech.


What is the ProtoEV Challenge?

ProtoEV is the UK’s first STEM competition for schools, colleges and apprentices to recycle used petrol go-karts and transform them into high powered electric vehicles which they test and race to see which is the fastest and most energy efficient. ProtoEV was successfully piloted in summer 2018 with funding from Greater Manchester Higher, for proof of concept, and input from our development partners including CAL International who specializes in designing and testing automotive concepts, NIS Integrated Engineering, RS Components, Carbon Performance, Salford University and Blackburn College. The Blair Project are members of the Northern Automotive Alliance. The test day took place at the Three Sisters Race Track, Wigan, on the 17th July 2018 with teams of students and apprentices.

Teams of students aged 15-18 used a combination of generative design, 3D printing, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, energy efficiency and storage, aerodynamics and budgetary factors to design and build working prototypes using existing standard kart chassis’. 

Run over the course of eight months, student teams get to test and demonstrate their knowledge, problem-solving skills and capabilities to deliver continuous performance improvements competing in a total of three test days and one final race day.

There are a total of 3 x training workshops for teachers, lecturers and project leads, equipment purchase lists and a build manual.

ProtoEV has been approved by the Motor Sports Association as a motor club in its own right, which has paved the way for a development series in autumn 2018 with a full-blown championship in late 2019/ early 2020. The first prototype kart was made and developed by CAL International which was used as the standard kart to model off when creating a new set of karts. Rules and regulations for a ProtoEV development series commencing in October 2018 were developed by CAL International with support from the MSA. The technical specification of the karts will follow the MSA “blue book” regulations and aligned with CIK-FIA (Commission Internationale De Karting – Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile)

Paving the Race Track of the Future

The Blair Project is now paving the way for the development and innovation of electric go-karts through its ProtoEV development Series. ProtoEV acts as an essential innovation platform and test bed to identify design, materials and processes which drive the development of cost-effective propulsion technologies. Working with engineering, technology and academic partners, it includes the trial and testing of promising new lightweight and affordable technologies. The commercialisation of new innovations will be supported through a new ProtoEV championship beginning in 2020, which aims to become a feeder series for Formula E.

The development series will have a grid of 10 x eKarts to test out the specifications of the karts and the optimum set up. This represents TRL Level 5. Discussions have begun with a UK company to manufacture the e-motors for the kart which are currently imported from China. We have also begun talking to another UK company who are creating lightweight lead-acid batteries, which are more powerful. The eKarts will be tested over the course of six months at Three Sisters Racing Circuit, before the staging of a race final in summer 2019 during the Manchester Festival of eSpeed.

ProtoEV will also contribute to supply chain development in the zero-emission vehicles sector and support new entrants to commercialise low carbon technological innovations, using electric go-karts to trial and test promising new lightweight technologies, providing robust but cost-effective testing and analysis of the benefits, opportunities and challenges of each one.

Innovation, collaboration and partnerships form the cornerstones of The Blair Project’s growth strategy. Projects in development with progressive partner organisations include:-

  • The launch of Formula Girl to increase the participation of girls in motorsport to close the gender gap, and encourage more girls into science and engineering careers.
  • In the formative stages of developing a new ProtoEV EdTech using video gaming and immersive augmented reality simulation software to train young people in real-world generative design and engineering skills. It has attracted substantial partner support and interest from an EdTech investor. Further applications for online upskilling, reskilling of engineers and apprenticeship training delivered digitally to new levels of standardisation globally. The visualisation tools and virtual designs will be used to make physical prototypes which are validated through testing in the real world in competition with other teams on motor racing circuits in the ProtoEV eKart Challenge. The ProtoEV EdTech represents a step-change which will disrupt the delivery of education and training delivery globally and enable us to grow a sizeable share of this $4 trillion market.

How Can People Help?

We’re looking for:-

  • Companies to sponsor the ProtoEV Challenge
  • Partner companies and academic institutions involved in R&D of low carbon technologies to work with us to improve electric vehicle design and performance.
  • Volunteer engineers to help us build more prototype e-karts for testing.
  • To work with, and grow a global network of engineers, innovators and collaborators who want to accelerate the development of electric, hybrid and autonomous vehicles and power systems by combining their passion, creative thinking and expertise.

Thanks to Marilyn for taking the time to tell us all about the great work The Blair Project is doing for the younger generation and the community at large, we at DesignSpark wish you and the team all the best for the future!

Learn more about The Blair Project on their website

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6 Sep 2018, 9:42