Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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ANSWER:
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a scientist is “a person who is trained in a science and whose job involves doing scientific research or solving scientific problems.” 

Based upon this definition, I agree it would be easy to consider conservators scientists. But, truthfully, scientific work represents only a portion of the work that we carry out on a daily basis.

Conservation as a field is interdisciplinary. 

It involves studio practices, sciences and the humanities. As a conservator, you are responsible for the long-term preservation of artistic and cultural artifacts. We analyze and assess the condition of cultural property and use our knowledge to develop collection care plans and site management strategies. We also carry out conservation treatments and related research.

Now, there are conservation scientists, who represent a specialized, highly trained subset of conservation professionals whose work concentrates exclusively on the science of artifact preservation. Rather than conserving artifacts, they focus their daily efforts on the analysis of artifact materials to determine how to best prevent degradation. They also conduct research to establish the best materials and techniques for conservators to use when they work on artifacts.

So are conservators scientists? No, we are not. But we do use an extensive training in material science, in combination with artistic skills and knowledge of art history, to conserve museum artifacts.

Mary Fahey is Chief Conservator at The Henry Ford.

Garage Art

June 3, 2016 Think THF

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Photo by Bill Bowen.

Model T mechanics are restoration artists in their own right.


The Henry Ford has a fleet of 14 Ford Model T’s, 12 of which ride thousands of visitors along the streets of Greenfield Village every year. 

With each ride, a door slams, shoes skid across the floorboards, seats are bounced on, gears are shifted, tires meet road, pedals are pushed, handles are pulled and so on. Makes maintaining the cars and preserving the visitor experience a continuous challenge.

“These cars get very harsh use,” said Ken Kennedy, antique vehicle mechanic and T Shed specialist at The Henry Ford. “Between 150,000 and 180,000 people a year ride in them. Each car gives a ride every five to seven minutes, with the longest route just short of a mile. This happens for nine months a year.”

The T Shed is the 3,600-square-foot garage on the grounds of Greenfield Village where repairs, restoration and maintenance magic happen. Kennedy, who holds a degree in restoration from McPherson College in Kansas, leads the shed’s team of staff and volunteers — many car-restoration hobbyists just like him.

“I basically turned my hobby into a career,” quipped Kennedy, who began restoring cars long before college. His first project: a 1926 two-door Model T sedan. “I also have a 1916 Touring and a 1927 Willys-Knight. And I’m working on a Model TT truck,” he added. 

April through December, the shed is humming, doing routine maintenance and repairs on the Model T’s as well as a few Model AA trucks that round out Greenfield Village’s working fleet. “What the public does to these cars would make any hobbyist pull their hair out. Doors opening and shutting with each ride. Kids sliding across the seats wearing on the upholstery,” said Kennedy. Vehicles often go through a set of tires every year. Most hobbyist-owned Model T’s have the same set for three-plus decades. 

With the heavy toll taken on the vehicles, the T Shed’s staff often makes small, yet important, mechanical changes to the cars to ensure they can keep up. “We have some subtle things we can do to make them work better for our purpose,” said Kennedy. Gear ratios, for example, are adjusted since the cars run slow — the speed limit in Greenfield Village is 15 miles per hour, maximum. “The cars look right for the period, but these are the things we can do to make our lives easier.”

In the off-season, when Greenfield Village is closed, the T Shedders shift toward more heavy mechanical work, replacing upholstery tops and fenders, and tearing down and rebuilding engines. While Kennedy may downplay the restoration, even the conservation, underpinnings of the work happening in the shed, the mindset and philosophy are certainly ever present. 

“Most of the time we’re not really restoring, but you still have to keep in mind authenticity and what should be,” he said. “It’s not just about what will work. You have to keep the correctness. We can do some things that aren’t seen, where you can adjust. But where it’s visible, we have to maintain what’s period correct. We want to keep the engines sounding right, looking right.”

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Photo by Bill Bowen.

RESTORATION IN THE ROUND 
Tom Fisher, Greenfield Village’s chief mechanical officer, has been restoring and maintaining The Henry Ford’s steam locomotives since 1988. “It was a temporary fill-in; I thought I’d try it,” Fisher said of joining The Henry Ford team 28 years ago while earning an engineering degree. 

He now oversees a staff with similarly circuitous routes — some with degrees in history, some in engineering, some with no degree at all. Most can both engineer a steam-engine train and repair one on-site in Greenfield Village’s roundhouse. 

“As a group, we’re very well rounded,” said Fisher. “One of the guys is a genius with gas engines — our switcher has a gas engine, so I was happy to get him. One guy is good with air brake systems. We feel them out, see where they’re good and then push them toward that.” 

Fisher’s team’s most significant restoration effort: the Detroit & Lima Northern No. 7. Henry Ford’s personal favorite, this locomotive was formerly in Henry Ford Museum and took nearly 20 years to get back on the track. 

“We had to put on our ‘way-back’ hats and say this is what we think they would have done,” said Fisher. 

No. 7 is one of three steam locomotives running in Greenfield Village. As with the Model T’s, maintaining these machines is a balance between preserving historical integrity and modernizing out of necessity. 

“A steam locomotive is constantly trying to destroy itself,” Fisher said. “It wears its parts all out in the open. The daily firing of the boiler induces stresses into the metal. There’s a constant renewal of parts.” 

Parts that Fisher and his team painstakingly fabricate, cast and fit with their sturdy hands right at the roundhouse. 

DID YOU KNOW?
The No. 7 locomotive began operation in Greenfield Village to help commemorate Henry Ford’s 150th birthday in 2013. 

moog-love
Image Courtesy of Moogfest.com

From May 18-22,
Moogfest 2016—a festival dedicated to “the synthesis of music, art, and technology”—took place in Durham, North Carolina. While you may not have heard of Moogfest itself, you have almost certainly heard the sound of the synthesizer that is the namesake of the festival. If you’ve ever driven on the freeway nodding along to the Beatles “Here Comes the Sun,” or Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn,” you’ve heard the Moog. If you’ve rocked out to Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Lucky Man,” or danced to Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” or (keeping it local to Detroit) Parliament’s “Flash Light”—you know what the Moog sounds like. And if you grew up as a child of the 1980s, watching John Carpenter’s classic horror films—that soundtrack that punctuated the dread of Halloween? It was played on a Moog by Carpenter himself. My point is, the Moog has permeated our culture—its influence is everywhere, in plain earshot.

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The Henry Ford is the repository for the original Moog prototype, pictured here. THF 156695

One of the reasons Moogfest is so important is because it raises awareness of the instrument’s impact. Not only is the Moog an essential innovation within the timeline of electronic instruments, it has also continued to influence the soundscapes of modern music. Another unique aspect of the festival is that its organizers give as much weight to organizing a carefully curated roster of lectures, workshops, and sound installations as they do in selecting the bands that play. From gatherings in small rooms where musicians lay their creative processes bare—to future-forward lectures about diverse topics like
Afrofuturism, technoshamanism and radical radio—Moogfest’s speaker programming gives those interested in music, art, and technology the chance to be absorb new ideas about the history of technology. 

This occasionally leads to interesting collisions and exchanges of ideas. Festival-goers might see a demonstration of IBM’s Watson project (a cognitive computing system), and later that day, hear Gary Numan play his groundbreaking 1979 Replicas album in its entirety. They might attend a workshop about “the internet of things,” and then take in a slice of a four-hour-long “durational performance” by analog synthesizer composer, Suzanne Ciani. Or for the truly committed—one might even participate in a “sleep concert” by Robert Rich, where the musician lulls participants to sleep with sound and influences their dreams from midnight until 8am the following morning. 

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Dave Tompkins, AUDINT, and Kristen Gallerneaux presenting their sonic research. The “mission patches” shown at center were discussed by AUDINT and represent cases in military history where sound was essential to the success of the mission: The Ghost Army, Operation Wandering Soul, and The Phantom Hailer.

While I have previously attended this festival as a spectator, this year I was honored to take part in Moogfest as an invited “Future Thought” speaker, where I helped to organize an event called
Spatial Sound & Subhistories. The event opened with a presentation about some of The Henry Ford’s own sound and communications history artifacts—including the prototype Moog synthesizer. Writer Dave Tompkins gave a riveting talk about his book-in-progress, about the effect of the natural landscape on Miami Bass and hip-hop music. The event was capped off by a tour through “can’t believe this is real” sound history by the UK-based collective AUDINT, who began their discussion with the WWII-era “Ghost Army.”

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Dorit Chrysler demonstrates the theremin in an adult workshop.

I also managed to take in a few events at the festival. On Thursday, I hit the ground running by participating in a theremin workshop led by world-renowned thereminist, Dorit Chrysler. Her resume is impressive, having played with the bands Blonde Redhead, Cluster, ADULT., Dinosaur Jr., and many others. Chrysler also founded KidCool Theremin School, which provides educational workshops to increase awareness of the instrument. After spending an enjoyable hour hearing stories about the theremin’s history and dipping my toes in the water of learning to play (but not too well), I’m very happy to say that KidCool Theremin School will be joining us at The Henry Ford for Maker Faire Detroit to offer a series of workshops and performances. Stay tuned for more details! 

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Sam Aaron makes electronic music using live Sonic-Pi coding.

The overlap between sound, art, and the technology used to make it has become indistinguishable in some cases. In this image, Sam Aaron is using Sonic Pi—a software program he created—to create live-coded synth music. As computer code swept quickly upwards on the projections behind the musician and the music changed with each command, it became obvious that Aaron was exposing the audience to the process he was using to manipulate sound. While my initial reaction was that this mode of music-making must be amazingly difficult, Sonic Pi was in fact developed as an entry point to teach basic coding in the classroom. 

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Ryan Germick talks about developing the Pegman icon for Google’s Street View.

At the “Arts & Smarts” event, Google Doodle team leader Ryan Germick played host to something that fell somewhere between a stand-up comedy and technology talk show—complete with a “robot” named “Jon Bot” (actually Germick’s brother in a silver space-age suit). Through a stream of constant self-effacement and hilarious jokes, Germick talked about the origins of the icons he created during his career at Google. As the artist behind the Google Maps “Pegman” icon in Street View, Germick now leads the team responsible for over 4000 Google Doodles—including an accurate version of a Moog synthesizer in celebration of inventor Bob Moog’s birthday. 

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Susan Kare talks about her career designing digital icons.

Keeping with the talk show format, Germick also interviewed a few other guests. Susan Kare, an artist and graphic designer responsible for “creating every icon you’ve ever loved” gave a retrospective tour through her career as a pioneer of pixel art and digital icons. While working at Apple, she created the “Chicago” and “Geneva” typefaces, as well as the “sad” and “happy” Mac graphics—and the Command key on Apple keyboards.

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Virtual Reality designer Manuel Clément has worked on many projects at Google, including the self-driving car project.

Next, Manuel Clément, Senior Virtual Reality Designer at Google, spoke about his early life in computing and his work on platforms like Flash in the 1990s, Google Chrome, Doodles, a Self-Driving car program, and Cardboard. Clément showed the outcome of a new prototyping team called Google Daydream, who are testing issues of social interaction, motion, and scale in virtual reality. He reminded the audience that VR is about “experiencing the impossible,” yet he is aware of its current limitations. In reference to an intense bout of app experiments, Clément asked: “What is VR good for? Maybe it’s good for nothing. But how about we build 60 things over 30 weeks and figure it out?” 

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An exhibit celebrating the legacy of another early synthesizer pioneer, Don Buchla.

A collection of Don Buchla instruments and memorabilia was also on view at Moogfest. Buchla, who is located in Berkeley, California, began creating analog and touch-sensitive synthesizers at about the same time as Bob Moog was creating his synthesizer prototype on the East Coast. The exhibit was created from the collection of Richard Smith—an important instrument technician in his own right, and one-time apprentice of Buchla. Smith provided a glimpse into one of the most complete collections of Buchla material ever assembled—this small portion of his archive certainly left me wanting to see the rest! 

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A “Minimoog Model D” synthesizer under construction at the Moog Music Pop-Up Factory.

Moog Music, whose headquarters and factory are located in Asheville, NC, built a “pop-up factory” for the Durham’s Moogfest. Even on the last day of the festival, the enthusiasm in the building was positively electric. Every demonstration synthesizer available was being played by a visitor, and displays related to Moog’s history were being used as photo opportunities: fans posed for photos next to a larger-than-life image of composer Wendy Carlos and by the circuit boards that once powered the synths of Kraftwerk, Dr. Dre, and Bernie Worrell (who to the delight of fans, dropped in for an impromptu session at the Factory). 

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A view of Yuri Suzuki’s interactive Global Synthesizer Project.

In the spirit of encouraging a Maker Culture, the three finalists of Moog’s 5
th Annual Circuit Bending Challenge were on display—a contest that asks contestants to create a unique electronic instrument for $70 or less. One wall was taken up by a collection of analog synthesizers in the shape of a world map. Designed by sound-art designer Yuri Suzuki, the Global Synthesizer Project asked people to contribute audio recordings of their regions. When the project debuted at Moogfest, visitors were allowed to interact by creating wire “patches” to play the gigantic archive of international sound. 

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The Minimoog Model D, exploded and assembled.

Moog Music also used the buzz around the festival to announce the revival of one of their most iconic synthesizers—the
Minimoog Model D. Using a remarkable amount of research, craftsmanship, and detail-oriented production, the company is staying true to the original 1970 version, down to the last circuit. Visitors could see an “exploded” Minimoog, and step over to the factory stations, where the various stages of their assembly was explained

moog-groupDarion Bradley of Make Noise shows off a modular synthesizer system.

Moogfest, out of necessity and the modern spirit of music-making, isn’t
all Moog all the time. In fact, there is a general spirit of comradery and democracy that permeates the event. In the Modular Marketplace, modern-day instrument makers show off their capabilities. In particular, small companies who create Eurorack modules—a sort of synthesizer that you can build piece-by-piece, by chaining together components—have a strong presence at Moogfest. Companies like Synthrotek, Mutable Instruments, Bleep Labs (along with dozens of others) demonstrated their gear and allowed people to try it out. The philosophies of innovation behind the Asheville-based Make Noise company seemed particularly relevant—not only with regard to their own instruments—but also to the general values found among creative technologists at this particular moment in time: “We see our instruments as a collaboration with musicians who create once in a lifetime performances that push boundaries and play the notes between the notes to discover the unfound sounds. We want our instruments to be an experience, one that will require us to change our trajectories and thereby impact the way we understand and imagine sound.”  

Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communications and Information Technology at The Henry Ford.

synthesizers, moog

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The Henry Ford always goes big when it comes to hosting Maker Faire Detroit. 2016 promises to be no different. In fact, it might actually go just a bit bigger than ever before. 

The call for makers went out at the beginning of April, and the number and scope of innovators answering The Henry Ford's summon didn't disappoint. Visitors to the event can expect some old favorites to be on the scene such as Maker Works’ Great Maker Race and Cirque Amongus, as well as lots of opportunities to do some hands-on innovating and buy things DIY. But, the big story for Maker Faire 2016 (and we add extra emphasis on the word "big") is the locked-down appearance of MegaBots, said Shauna Wilson, senior manager of National Events for The Henry Ford. 

If you're not familiar with MegaBots, they are 15-foot-tall, internally piloted humanoid robots that fire cannonball-sized paintballs at speeds of more than 120 miles per hour. They made quite the media splash last year when they challenged Japan to a robot duel and they accepted. (The date and locale of the historic duel against Kuratas, Japan's 9,000-pound robot, are still to be determined.)  

Matt Oehrlein, one of the co-founders of MegaBots and a longtime fan and participant on the Maker Faire circuit, shared a few secrets about what his team will be bringing to Maker Faire Detroit. "Visitors can expect to see the six-ton, 15-foot tall MegaBots Mk. II that challenged Japan to a giant robot duel,” he said, “We'll be testing the weapon system of Mk. II on a scrap vehicle in The Henry Ford's parking lot." 

After weapon tests are completed, Oehrlein promises there will be plenty of meet-and-greet ops with the MegaBots team and the Mk. II. "Autographs and group selfies are welcome, too," he added. 

The Henry Ford's Wilson and Oehrlein agree that the match up of The Henry Ford, Maker Faire Detroit and MegaBots is a no-brainer. Noted Oehrlein, "The Henry Ford gives a historical look at innovation over time, and we believe MegaBots represents innovation of today. It will be amazing for people to come to Maker Faire Detroit, walk through The Henry Ford and see innovation over the years, and then come outside and witness a six-ton robotic beast representing today's advancements in technology. We are so excited to be a part of this story."

Did You Know? The MegaBot Mk. II made its debut at Maker Faire San Mateo in 2015. 

Architects for social impact look, listen and then create experiences that restore community, human dignity and eventually evoke change

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Many architects today are discovering that success doesn’tnecessarily depend on talent, vision or how you apply learned design practices in the real world. Much of one’s success, in fact, relies on an ability to listen to and empathize with the needs of the community you’re trying to serve. And oftentimes, these needs aren’t simple, pretty or cut-and-dried. 

Architect Michael Maltzan faced such a situation when he was brought on board to build an apartment building in downtown Los Angeles for the homeless. While many of today’s homeless shelters and low-income houses seem drab and without character or aesthetic beauty, Maltzan’s Star Apartments is just the opposite. The striking modular shaped structure adds visual impact to the neighborhood. And while most homeless housing is focused on the much-needed concept of basic shelter — without extra amenities or attention to detail — Maltzan’s design includes a community space with a state-of-the-art kitchen, an edible garden, exercise classrooms, art studios and a basketball court built on the top level of what was once a parking structure.

“I feel that carefully thought-out designs can contribute to a person’s rehabilitation,” said Maltzan, who understands the power of shelter and safety to help transform a life from uncertain to hopeful. “Whether it’s a single-family home, a museum or a school, you have to bring your highest level of design and focus on what makes the individual program unique."

Residents of Star Apartments describe the feeling of having what most overlook everyday — a front door with a lock, a doorbell, running water — as life altering. 

Kenneth Davis is a peer counselor at the Skid Row Housing Trust, which built Star Apartments in 2013. He is also a resident of the complex. “Once I moved in and closed my door, my life flashed before me,” said Davis, who had to transition from a life behind bars and then on the streets to living in his own apartment. “At 49 years old, I finally had my own closed door. This made me feel as safe as others in society. It was phenomenal to hear my doorbell. It was music to my ears. The effect my home had on me: It gave me tranquility. I did not want to go backwards in life ever again.”

Davis returned to school and completed a drug and alcohol studies program and became certified as a mental health peer specialist for the Skid Row Housing Trust. Actions, he said, that are a direct result of having a place he could call home. “I see the same effect of permanent, supportive housing in residents. Eyes glowing in the groups that I facilitate, eager to participate from a good night’s sleep on a soft bed. I’ve seen mental illness and addiction addressed and tackled daily because of the power of a locked door.”

Add in the fact that the Skid Row Housing Trust also provides on-site access to health care and job training services, and that makes Star Apartments, as well as the trust’s two-dozen other buildings, a successful working example of design for social impact.

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CONNECT, CREATE, CHANGE

This idea that the people you are designing something for have a voice that needs to be heard before you start creating is at the heart of the social impact movement seeping into the world of modern architecture. The notion that improving living conditions and preserving a sense of community for everyone should be paramount before a design is drawn or a foundation laid.

Some of the most mainstream examples of design for social impact do not necessarily tackle such hardhitting societal issues as homelessness, either.

Celebrating its fifth anniversary in San Francisco, Pavement to Parks has made a commitment to converting underutilized street space into urban parklets and plazas that help foster neighborhood interaction, support local businesses and reimagine city streets. Most are temporary interventions, but some, such as the Jane Warner Plaza at Castro and Market streets designed by Seth Boor of Boor Bridges Architecture, have become permanent neighborhood fixtures.

The temporary spaces often occupy parking spots and underused curb space, and add much-needed friendly, colorful and quaint public gathering areas in what might
otherwise be a concrete-centric landscape. The Ocean Avenue Mobile Parklet, for example, made its way up and down San Francisco’s Ocean Avenue, spending six months at one location before it moved to the next.

Designed and built by public high school students who are architecture interns at the Youth Art Exchange in San Francisco, the parklet project introduced students to the philosophies of social impact design to connect community, create commerce and beautify the neighborhood.

In San Francisco’s Outer Sunset District, the Noriega Street Parklet replaces three diagonal parking spots. The unique shape of the space gave designers the opportunity to create two separate, usable areas well suited to the diverse groups they knew made up the community. One is larger and more open for children, strollers and owners and their pets. The other is more protected and intimate for the quieter and older crowds.

In contrast to the Noriega Street Parklet’s angles and sharper edges is the whimsical, elongated design of the Sunset Parklet on Judah Street. If studied close enough for long enough, it looks somewhat like an ancient Viking longship, with modern-day addons, of course, such as a bike rack. Developing the spaces between a business and the street to help make cities more livable: What was once a guerrilla idea has become institutionalized with endless opportunities for access and inclusion.

Parklets are now popping up everywhere, from college campuses in Iowa to spaces across the world in Chile.

LISTEN, OBSERVE, UNDERSTAND
Liz Ogbu PortraitOn the more serious side of design for social impact is architect Liz Ogbu of Studio O, who has personally created an entire practice revolving around solving social issues through humancentered design practices. Actively involved in shaping some of the world’s leading public interest design nonprofits, Ogbu is part of the inaugural class of Innovators-in-Residence at IDEO.org, the sister nonprofit of the international design firm IDEO, which supports spreading human-centered design to improve the lives of low income communities across the globe

Ogbu has designed everything from thought-provoking exhibits and resource spaces for day laborers to public sidewalk plazas. She takes great inspiration from the concepts shared by pioneer architect Le Corbusier, who once said, “A house is a machine for living in” as well as “The home should be the treasure chest of living.”

“I have been on this long journey of linking up what is normally taught as architecture and design to the physical and tangibles of the containers in which people live their lives,” Ogbu said. “I want the process to be more active. I want to create more than just the container, giving people more agency to be able to shape it.”

Most recently, Ogbu found herself tackling how to upgrade sanitation services for residents of a remote village in Ghana. While she was there, she observed men, women and children often standing in long lines for public toilets. “We spent a week just talking to the people in their homes,” said Ogbu. “We talked to moms, pastors in churches, staff while they worked, in order to understand what their lives were like in general.”

At the end of this information gathering, Ogbu helped formulate plans to increase access to a pay toilet system in public spaces that would aid in the sanitation issues and generate much-needed revenue.

“The heart of human-centered design is the idea of empathy. It is important to take the time to listen, observe and understand people,” said Ogbu. “Just because someone is poor does not mean that they do not have desires and aspirations.”

Ogbu stresses the value of listening to the challenges and responding with designs that solve problems. “Developing deep empathetic skills and including people as part of the process of design is not social design, it’s just good design,” she added. “Whether you are building a gorgeous tower being paid for by a multibillion-dollar company or working on a toilet project, you are always trying to preserve the beauty of the project and the people it serves.”

By Julie Wolfson. This story originally appeared in the January-May 2016 edition of The Henry Ford Magazine.

design

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A hydrogen-fueled Prototype from Colorado’s Wheat Ridge High School charges up Jefferson Avenue at the 2016 Shell Eco-marathon Americas.

The gas mileage in our cars is nothing to sneeze at these days. The average for all new light-duty vehicles sold in the United States is around 25 miles per gallon. Buy a gas/electric hybrid like the Toyota Prius or the Chevrolet Volt and the equivalent mileage jumps to about 60. Go with the all-electric Tesla Model S and you’re looking at an equivalent of almost 90 miles per gallon. Good numbers, but you’d have to multiply them by ten to be taken seriously at the Shell Eco-marathon Americas.

For the second year in a row, Shell brought its super-mileage competition to Detroit. More than 1,000 students on 124 teams from high schools and colleges throughout the Western Hemisphere gathered in the Motor City April 22-24 to compete toward a simple goal: to tease as much mileage out of a gallon of gasoline (or its equivalent) as possible.

Photo 2

Students from Michigan’s Lapeer County Education and Technology Center are fans of The Love Bug, judging by their Urban Concept vehicle.

If you’re fan of
The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation, then you might recall that the competition was featured in the show. Cars compete in two classes. The Prototypes are stripped-down, highly aerodynamic designs, while the Urban Concept vehicles look a bit more like production cars. Teams may use either internal combustion engines (fueled by gasoline, diesel, natural gas or ethanol) or electric motors (fed by lithium-based batteries or hydrogen fuel cells.) This year’s overall winner was Université Laval of Quebec City with 2,584 miles per gallon. Fellow Canadians from the University of Toronto weren’t far behind with 2,364. California Polytechnic State University rounded out the podium with 1,125. (Complete results are available here.)

How do teams achieve these extraordinary numbers? Streamlined shapes and lightweight materials are big parts of the equation, but the teams also shut off their engines and coast as much as possible along the 0.6-mile course laid out through downtown Detroit. But competing vehicles have to maintain an average speed of at least 15 miles per hour over ten laps, so they can’t rely too heavily on momentum.

Photo 3

Inspection is rigorous. Many teams struggle with the brake test, in which their car’s brakes must hold the vehicle (with driver) perfectly still on a 20-percent grade.

It’s an all-in commitment for the students. Teams began arriving in Detroit on Tuesday, and most of them stayed in tents set up on Cobo Center’s lower level. If they weren’t sleeping or competing on the track, odds are that the students were working on their cars in the paddocks that covered much of Cobo’s main hall. Each vehicle has to pass a rigorous safety and compliance inspection before it’s allowed on the track, so there’s always fine-tuning to be done.

Photo 4

Everybody loves to build a Model T.

In addition to the competition, there were many other attractions for the public to enjoy. The Henry Ford was pleased to have a presence in Cobo Center alongside the Michigan Science Center, the MotorCities National Heritage Area, FCA and other organizations. We brought two of our signature experiences – the “Build a Model T” activity and the operating replica of Henry Ford’s Kitchen Sink Engine – along with the replica of the
1896 Quadricycle and the 102.5 mile-per-gallon Edison2 X Prize car. We also brought several auto-related clips from The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation to inspire the teams and event visitors alike.

On Saturday, I was privileged to moderate a panel discussion with students and staff from Maxwell High School of Technology in Lawrenceville, Georgia. The group won the grand prize in Quaker State’s 2015 Best in Class Challenge, in which they had six weeks to turn a plain-vanilla 2003 Chevrolet Impala into a head-turning street machine. The competition, with its tight time and money restrictions, gave the students a new appreciation for teamwork – not unlike the cooperation that is so crucial to Eco-marathon teams.

The Shell Eco-marathon Americas will be back in Detroit in 2017. If you missed the event this year, be sure to get to Cobo Center next time to enjoy one of the most exciting and innovative motor vehicle challenges around.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

hybrid cars, alternative fuel vehicles

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On April 16-17, 2016, the 4th USA Science & Engineering Festival was held in Washington, DC. This national event is the largest science festival in the country, with over 3000 exhibitors, a speaker program, and hundreds of hands-on activities for attendees to participate in. Free admission helps the festival to draw an annual attendance of over 350,000 visitors, which range from school groups and educators—to curious adults (and at least one tech-obsessed curator). Much like The Henry Ford’s own Maker Faire Detroit, the exhibits buzzed with possibility and discovery for all things technological and experimental. The enthusiasm in the exhibit halls was contagious among young and adult audiences alike, as mixture of independent startups, educational collectives, government organizations, and commercial investors collided under one roof, under one common goal: to engage young audiences by providing formative and positive interactions with the STEM fields—and to suggest the future possibilities of the weight of technology within our everyday lives. Here are a few favorite moments from the festival. 

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SketchUp, a computer program for 3D modeling, showed a multi-dimensional range of abilities with projects that fell into the entertainment-based arena (a DIY foosball table or mechanical dinosaur)—to more educational applications such as an interactive, light-up plan of Washington, DC. Thanks to SketchUp’s open source model, with access to a 3D printer, you could theoretically create your own model of the city of Detroit or even of The Henry Ford museum by using ready-made SketchUp plans, available for free online. As SketchUp’s demonstrators noted, once the models are printed and a simple LED-light structure is put into place, these models “can be great for learning about an existing area of the world, re-imagining one, or coming up with your own world altogether.”  

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The robotics company, Festo, was onsite to demonstrate examples of their beautiful and uncanny biomimetic designs. A tank full of their AquaJelly devices perfectly mimed the swarming behavior of real-world jellyfish. Similarly, the company has created autonomous “AirPenguins,” butterflies, and bionical ants that “collaborate” through machine-based learning processes. While the visual presence of swimming robotic jellyfish is hypnotic to be sure, the company’s goals go much deeper than pure flash and fodder. Festo’s mission is to improve modern manufacturing by recreating the patterns of collaboration, control, and innovation already found within the wonders and orders of nature

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The National Security Agency and National Cryptologic Museum were also present. A hands-on display allowed guests to press keys on a working Enigma machine, well-known for its role in WWII-era communication. Machines like this were famously used by the German military to encrypt messages, while the secretive work happening at Bletchley Park in England was working to crack the Enigma’s codes. Activities at the NSA’s booth introduced young audiences to the historical world of cryptology and codebreaking via cipher disks, but also demonstrated how the same concepts could be used in contemporary cybersecurity. The Agency not only showed youth how to create a strong password, but also provided “cybersmart” awareness training in the privacy and use of social media. 

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Several large pavilions encouraging careers in space science and education formed an undeniably strong presence at the festival. NASA, Lockheed-Martin, and a few others created welcoming zones jam-packed with hands-on activities. At the NASA exhibit, younger audiences could rub shoulders with working NASA scientists, see models of Mars rovers, learn about modern-day space exploration, and a glimpse into the scientific principles behind it all. Lockheed-Martin’s pavilion was taken over with a speculative display of Mars-related technology—although, as the banners posted throughout the experience cleverly reminded visitors: “This Science Isn’t Fiction.”  As I stared, admittedly mystified, at the impressively fast and fluid industrial 3D printer in front of me (that seemed a bit like it had jumped straight out of a sci-fi movie about sentient technology), a Lockheed-Martin expert patiently explained the process unfolding before us. While the MRAC (Multi-Robotic Additive Cluster), was set up to print with plastic at the festival, this machine is primarily used to print flight-ready parts for satellites with titanium, aluminum, and Inconel. It can produce rapid-fire prototypes, but also polished parts, cutting the time to, for example, create a satellite fuel tank from 18 months—down to 2 weeks. Lockheed-Martin has worked closely with NASA on every mission flown to Mars, pooling knowledge and manufacturing resources on aspects of orbiters, landers, and rovers. As the expert on hand explained, “we have to collaborate—no one can do everything, all by themselves.” 

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As part of the Saturday speaker series, NASA astronaut Jeff Williams was livestreamed from the International Space Station onto the festival’s stage. Young audience members were given the opportunity to ask him questions like “What does it smell like in space?” and “What happens to your body when you live in space?” Life in space is something that Williams knows well, having spent 534 cumulative days in space. And as it turns out, Williams, space travel, and the modern media age are old friends—in 2009, he formed part of the first NASA team to hold a live Twitter event in space

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Giants of calculator history, Texas Instruments, demonstrated a new line of STEM-friendly educational calculators. Their new TI-Innovator System allows students to learn the basics of computer coding (in BASIC language, no less) on their calculators, building skills bit-by-bit in a series of “10 Minutes of Code” lesson plans. Sympathetic to the idea that STEM concepts are best enacted in some kind of physical reality, beyond the calculator’s screen, the company has created the TI-Innovator Hub (the clear box depicted lower center). The Hub, linked up to a calculator, can activate a variety of functions: LED lights, speakers, optical sensors, and ports that allow it to communicate with external breadboards, computers, and other controllers. In this image, the Hub has been programmed to raise and lower a spool of string, meant to mimic the mathematical problem of how low to lower a fishing boat anchor. 

Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communication & Information Technology at The Henry Ford.

science fairs, Maker Faire Detroit

Detroit Autorama 2016: Hot Rods, Customs and Classics at Cobo
"Jade Idol II,” built as a tribute to master customizer Gene Winfield’s original, is typical of the Detroit Autorama’s top-tier cars.

Even in the dead of winter, it’s never a long wait around here for the next car show. Soon after the North American International Auto Show closes its doors, we look forward to the Detroit Autorama, the annual show featuring the best in custom cars and hot rods. The 2016 show, held February 26-28, did not disappoint with some 800 vehicles spread over 750,000 square feet in Cobo Center.

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Concept cars of the 1950s were spotlighted. This ’54 Chrysler La Comtess came from FCA’s Walter P. Chrysler Museum. The show car was designed expressly to appeal to women.
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Michigan, Detroit, by Matt Anderson, Autorama, cars, car shows

 

Maybe it was the 16°F temperature outside, but I loved this Kia A1A Optima concept roadster – named for the Florida highway running south to Key West.

 

It's that time of year again when the eyes of the automotive world turn to Detroit. The North American International Auto Show attracts automakers, suppliers, press and enthusiasts from around the globe to the Motor City to revel in the industry's latest technologies and trends.

 

Our 1967 Mark IV helps Ford celebrate its return to Le Mans later this year.

 

If you're a racing fan, the fun starts the moment you enter Cobo Center's lobby. Ford Performance has set up shop with four significant Blue Oval racers. The headliner is the new GT that will return Ford to Le Mans in June, in celebration of its historic 1-2-3 finish over Ferrari 50 years ago. But visitors will also enjoy the 2017 NASCAR Fusion, the first-built 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350, and - my unabashed favorite - the 1967 Mark IV that Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt drove to an all-American victory at that year's Le Mans 24-Hour. (The latter, of course, is a part of The Henry Ford's collection.) Once you get inside the exhibition hall proper, don't miss Juan Pablo Montoya's winning car from the 2015 Indianapolis 500, displayed prominently with the Borg-Warner Trophy. Continue Reading

racing, NAIAS, movies, Michigan, luxury cars, Detroit, cars, car shows, by Matt Anderson

Members of the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan experience what a Merino sheep feels like during a recent visit to Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village.

According to the 2010 Census, more than 56 million Americans, or over 20% of the U.S. population, have some type of disability. These numbers are likely to grow in the years ahead, as the U.S. population ages and as developmental disorders and diseases, such as autism and Alzheimer’s, affect an increasing number of people. When family members and companions of people with disabilities are included in these numbers, this becomes a significant audience – one that may have the desire and means to visit museums, but may not have their needs addressed sufficiently.

While the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provided guidelines for museums to become more physically accessible, there has been a growing trend in museums across the country recently to go beyond the legal obligations of ADA. This has led to an increasing variety of innovative new opportunities and programs for people with different physical, developmental and cognitive abilities. Continue Reading

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