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Solar Dune Buggy

By Laura Kiniry

Photograph by Lissie Ham

Brothers Michael and Kenny Ham have a goal: to create cheap electric vehicles that get people interested in renewable energy. In 2009, they built Three-Wheeled Electric Alternative by KinAestheticWind (TWEAK), a solar-powered three-wheeler. “We wanted a vehicle that could recharge itself,” says Kenny.

For help with their project, they offered an extended learning course at the University of New Mexico’s Los Alamos campus. “Our students (eight men and two women) turned out to be the perfect blend of age and experience,” says Michael, 30, a Ph.D. physicist in computer vision research at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. “They were solving problems in ways we’d never dreamed.”

The group took a heap of parts — including an old classroom seat, the steering and suspension components from a VW Beetle, a sealed lead-acid battery, a solar battery charger, and three motorcycle tires — and turned them into a dune buggy-like ride, all for about $1,000. Two cordless drills supplied power to the rear wheel through a series of old bicycle parts and a motorcycle chain.

“One mistake we made was buying a 12V solar panel to charge a 36V battery pack,” explains Kenny, 24, a mechanical engineering technology student at Kansas State University. “We fixed it by creating a circuit that allowed the pack to run at 36V and switch to 12V for recharging.”

Though heavy and slow (it had a combined horsepower of 2), it ran. “We always called TWEAK ‘Prototype Zero’ because we knew it was going to be more of a learning experience than anything else,” Michael admits.

Next up: ApocalypsEV-1, a compact, street-legal electric ATV.

Above is an excerpt from MAKE Volume 29.

More about the issue:

We have the technology (to quote The Six Million Dollar Man), but commercial tools for exploring, assisting, and augmenting our bodies really can approach a price tag of $6 million. Medical and assistive tech manufacturers must pay not just for R&D, but for expensive clinical trials, regulatory compliance, and liability — and doesn’t help with low pricing that these devices are typically paid for through insurance, rather than purchased directly. But many gadgets that restore people’s abilities or enable new “superpowers” are surprisingly easy to make, and for tiny fractions of the costs of off-the-shelf equivalents. MAKE Volume 29, the “DIY Superhuman” issue, explains how.


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