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Thursday, Nov. 19, 2009 04:26 pm

X PRIZE team passes the test

Illuminati Motor Works is one of 43 left in international competition


Greg Spradlin, a supporter of Illuminati Motor Works, designed this artistic rendering of what their car will look like when completed. Performance testing for the 53 vehicles in the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE competition begins in spring.

Illuminati Motor Works continues to power past checkpoints in the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE, a $10 million competition that seeks to produce a new generation of fast, inexpensive, super “green” cars.

Last month the X PRIZE announced that 43 teams — representing 18 states and 10 countries — passed the design judging phase by proving to automotive and technical experts that their vehicles could meet or exceed competition requirements. Illuminati Motor Works, the Springfield-area group of engineers, automotive technicians and car enthusiasts that committed to the competition in August 2007 [see “Eyes on the Prize,” March 27, 2008], is one of those teams.

Team leader Kevin Smith says they had to prove that their vehicle gets more than 100 miles per gallon or its energy-equivalent, has a 200-mile range and accelerates from 0 to 60 in less than 15 seconds. Among other provisions, the team also had to show that their entry meets all of the same safety standards as modern vehicles and could be cost-effectively mass-produced for the public.

“In the last two years, we’ve learned 100 years worth of automotive engineering,” Smith says. “From designing and building from chalk lines on the floor to an ultra-efficient vehicle, we’ve had to do things once and twice. Now we had to demonstrate to the X PRIZE Foundation that not only do we know what we’re doing, but that we can also meet their standards.”

Illuminati Motor Works captain Kevin Smith, with the assistance of team members Thomas Pasko and Josh Spradlin, demonstrates the gull-wing doors on their entry for the Progressive Automotive X PRIZ.

Based on the latest round of judging, the competition, which began with 136 vehicle entries from 111 teams, will now advance 53 vehicles. X PRIZE officials reiterate that the competition is about “developing real, production-capable cars that consumers will want to buy, not science projects or concept cars.”

“The teams and vehicles represented in this group are the most viable in our competition and we believe that together they are positioned to make a huge impact on the automotive marketplace,” says Dr. Peter Diamandis, X PRIZE CEO and chairman.

Illuminati’s next step is to have its vehicle rolling under its own power by mid-December. They’re running short on time, Smith says, but only because they’ve changed the construction of their car.

They’ve converted their entry from a hybrid vehicle to one that’s pure electric. The move will drastically boost efficiency, Smith explains, estimating that their car will now reach the energy equivalent of nearly 500 miles per gallon. They double-checked their data, found zero errors and hoped X PRIZE would accept their above-average estimates.

“Even if the numbers were wrong, we’re still getting well over the 100 miles to the gallon,” Smith says. “We just got the results back from a couple of weeks ago — they loved our numbers.”

Illuminati Motor Works, which includes, from left, Kevin Smith, Thomas Pasko, Josh Spradlin, George Kennedy and Nate Knappenburger, show off their entry for the international Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE competition. The team recently converte

Illuminati’s vehicle’s efficiency comes from several factors, Smith adds, including the team’s use of regenerative braking and shocks. With regenerative braking, he says, the car will recover at least 80 percent of its braking energy and use it to recharge its batteries to go further and faster. Regenerative shocks, similarly, recharge the vehicle’s batteries with vibrations from the road.

The vehicle’s other unique features include rear-facing back seats to improve aerodynamics, steel support that runs between passengers for safety and gull-wing doors for style and functionality.

Illuminati has so far spent $40,000 to design and build their vehicle. The team predicts that the first prototypes of their vehicle could cost $42,000.

Performance testing for vehicles in the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE competition begins in spring 2010. Winners will be announced by September 2010.

In addition to the Automotive X PRIZE, the foundation has launched the $10 million Archon X PRIZE for Genomics and the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE.

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.


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