Two App State Team Sunergy members join Chief Sustainability Officer Lee Ball in the podcast studio to share their experiences with solar vehicle racing. Zach Howard and Logan Richardson explain how they got involved with the team, as well as the impact it has had on their personal growth and their job prospects post-graduation.
Lee Ball Welcome to the Find Your Sustainability podcast. My name is Lee Ball. I'm the Chief Sustainability Officer here at Appalachian State University and today we have part two of a three part series where we're talking to members of Appalachian State University's Team Sunergy today. With me, I have Logan Richardson, who's the embedded systems lead, majoring in computer science and actually a graduate student in computer science.
Lee Ball And Zack Howard, a mechanical lead who is majoring in sustainable technology. Welcome to the podcast.
Both Thank you. Thank you.
Lee Ball You know, in part one, we talked to the team about various different things. I have a feeling that we'll get into some of the same things. But I wanted to ask you, Zach, what first attracted you to get involved with Team Sunergy?
Zach Howard So, I was looking for schools, looking for colleges. I'd come across App State and I had heard about the solar vehicle team. I saw it on Instagram a couple of times and I deemed the team and Sam Cheatham responded to me. He gave me his personal number and he just told me to reach out when I had questions. And I think the first person I met when I started coming to the team was Reed.
Zach Howard It just was a really cool community and I really enjoyed being a part of it and it just felt natural.
Lee Ball Were you a first year? Had you started when you heard about the team, or is this even before this was?
Zach Howard I saw I knew about the team coming into the school, so I was looking out for it at the club fair that my freshman year and my fall semester.
Lee Ball It's amazing how many people have heard about us. You know, in high school.
Zach Howard Yeah, I was really looking forward to it. I wasn't sure what the team structure was going to look like and if I would be allowed to join the team or if I had to try out or submit a resume. But being a really inclusive team really opened up that opportunity and I've been super excited about it.
Lee Ball Yeah, now I want to clone you. Logan, what first attracted you to get involved with Team Sunergy
Logan Richardson Well, funny enough, I. I saw Rose in the homecoming parade when I was an undergrad, and I knew nothing about the team. And I just saw Rose in the parade, and I went, “Man, that's cool looking!” But during my undergrad, I never did get involved in it. And I came back for my master's degree and it was kind of one of those, friend of a friend of a friend things.
Logan Richardson And I knew Sam, who was on the team, invited me in. And I think just the first time I walked in the warehouse and saw the car up front, I was hooked. I knew.
Lee Ball So, both of you joined the team. In your first race last year, 2022, during the Formula One Grand Prix American. So, our challenge we raised from Independence, Missouri, to Twin Falls, Idaho. Zach, can you share a memory from that race?
Zach Howard I mean, yeah, that race, there was a lot that happened in those three weeks. It's hard to take just one thing. I have to say, one of my favorite experiences overall through the structure of the race, the camaraderie of the teams is super cool. And adding on to that, we shared a campsite one night in Idaho with Polytech, Montreal.
Zach Howard Their team was called Esteban, and we taught them how to play American football. We just had a great time. And we sat out there after dark for hours with a campfire, and they were passing around a cowboy hat, singing a bunch of country songs. And we were trying to sing French Canadian songs and it was a great time.
Zach Howard We completely forgot about the competition. They were our biggest competitors and we were just having a great time together, just two schools trying to do the same thing and look forward to sustainability. So that was really cool.
Lee Ball How about you, Logan? Do you have a memory that you'd like to share?
Logan Richardson Yeah. So last year we raced the Oregon Trail and the whole time I just couldn't get over it. Here we were in this, you know, convoy of solar powered vehicles going out west just like they did back in the day with the covered wagons and the whole thing. And just the juxtaposition of that, I just couldn't get over.
Logan Richardson And the, you know, I agree completely with what Zach said, the camaraderie. You're out there and you're on your own. You've got it. You got to figure it out yourself. And really, that sense of of of just roll your sleeves up and get it done was just incredible. But all the little towns we visited, the the beautiful scenery, just the whole thing, just incredible.
Lee Ball To build on that. What was it like competing against and and getting to know students from schools located all over North America?
Zach Howard I mean, it was that's one of my favorite parts of the competition, how different everybody is and how different every single team functions. Different teams have different strengths, but we all are working towards the same goal. And so it's really cool seeing that in each team. We're all willing to help one another and all willing to...we want to race against each other.
Zach Howard We want to compete together. So we helped the other teams get on track and we got help and we helped others and it was super cool to see that. But really what's cool is just how much you can learn from other teams and how much you can teach other teams and just feeding into that camaraderie I mentioned earlier, it's it's super cool.
Lee Ball How about you, Logan? What was it like competing against and getting, you know, students from schools located all over North America?
Logan Richardson It was incredible. You meet so many like minded individuals from all over North America and and not just in your subject area, you know, I love computers. I love working with them coding. But you meet people who are really into mechanical or they're really into electrical or marketing. It's just incredible. And and you make friends from all over the country and you you talk to them after the race, see how they're doing.
Logan Richardson You you see their development, what their team is doing, their cars. And all of a sudden you've got this network that spans the whole country that you didn't have before.
Lee Ball This time I’ll go to you. Logan. What are your thoughts about how collegiate solar racing is contributing to the future of sustainable transportation innovations?
Logan Richardson Oh, it's the cutting edge. It's absolutely the cutting edge. I mean, you've got teams from all over North America who are building prototype solar vehicles. That’s wild. That’s wild! And I think it's self-evident how much on the cutting edge it is, because you have recruiters from really big companies there, trying to recruit this talent for their companies because they want people with these skills.
Logan Richardson It's it's really something.
Lee Ball And what do you think, Zach? How is solar racing contributing to advancing technology?
Zach Howard I think really what it's doing is it's at this point in time, I feel like it's marketing to a lot of the world right now. We're showing that it's possible. It's something that can be expanded upon. We're a bunch of college students figuring this out right now. And if you think about that, put into large industry and how many amazing minds are out there, something like this truly is possible in our infrastructure one day, and that's my favorite part of it.
Logan Richardson And one of the things I'll say, the excitement that you see when we were going through those small towns, people would line up on the sidewalks to watch us go by. And you can see the excitement in their face. You know, they're sitting there with their little kids and little kids would come out to these parks that we would go to and we would show them the cars and the kids were interested in it.
Logan Richardson And I think the potential to get young minds invested in science and math and technology and engineering is yeah.
Lee Ball Yeah, I agree. And I also remember seeing people that we would pass and they were looking at staring at their phones and they never even saw that we passed that we could have been a whole bunch of aliens and they would have never known. Can you expand on what it's like to work in a really collaborative, multidisciplinary team, Zach?
Zach Howard Yeah, I mean, what's super cool about it is that none of us are specifically engineering majors, and so everybody comes from a different background, meaning that everybody has some skill that nobody else has, and we're learning from each other on a different level than some of the other schools, which I think is really cool. There's so much individual talent brought into this group by music majors, by political science majors, by pretty much any major you can think of.
Zach Howard We have on our team and we contributing to this car that's really kicking butt, which is really fun.
Lee Ball What do you think, Logan?
Logan Richardson Oh, it's been awesome! I've gotten to meet so many brilliant people from other departments who know things about their specific area of expertise that are not covered in my program. And having that exposure and being able to learn from people who have the mechanical knowledge or the electrical wiring knowledge or the business marketing knowledge. You just learn so much just by being in the room.
Logan Richardson It’s the exposure and the opportunities that are opened up to you by being on the team and what you can learn from the team. I think I learned way more out in the warehouse than I do in classrooms. So yeah.
Lee Ball Yeah, I wanted to talk about that kind of warehouse culture first with you, Logan. What kind of things are you working on and can you talk a little bit about some of the telemetry solutions that you've been trying to reach?
Logan Richardson Yes. So, I work with a team of students to do the coding for the team, work on the telemetry aspect. When we first got started, the number one thing the team wanted us to do was code up a speedometer. So we worked on that and we worked using magnets and a hall effect sensor. We got that working and then we moved on to a nav system.
Logan Richardson We moved on to fault code prediction to monitoring the battery metric system off the car, and we built a dashboard display and that data is pushed from our BMS to our dashboard, and then it's pushed to the cloud, and then we pull it back down from the cloud into our lead and chase vehicles so that our whole team can see the telemetry off the car simultaneously.
Logan Richardson So that's been one of the biggest challenges that we've worked on. And we're looking to expand our telemetry, expand the capabilities of our setup as well, and just see how far we can push it.
Lee Ball Great. And Zach, can you tell me a little bit about shop culture? You've really added a lot to Team Sunergy and your willingness and desire to make our shop more safe and more organized. And can you just talk a little bit more about what it has been like this spring leading up to the race?
Zach Howard Yeah, so the stress has built up a little bit as we're preparing to get into race season. What's been really awesome is we've had the opportunity to test the car and really put it through its paces before we get to the race. And through that, we've been able to train a lot of new members to be very comfortable around the car and be ready for whatever might happen.
Zach Howard So within that, you know, we spend, you know, 30, 40 hours a week in that warehouse doing every little thing we can to make sure everything goes perfect. And so every little thing we can think of that could possibly go wrong, we prevent and try and fix it. We spend hours in that warehouse together and there's a different level of bonding and a different level of communication and teamwork involved because you're tired, you're hungry, you're living off of Cheez-Its and mac and cheese.
Zach Howard You're ready to go home and you're trying to fix these problems you don't know how to fix. And so you build a really strong team out of that. And it's been really cool and I'm really excited to see this team perform and, you know, succeed at this race.
Lee Ball So Zach, how is your experience with Team Sunergy influenced, your career path and maybe what you might want to do after you leave App State?
Zach Howard I mean, this is what I want to do and I'm going to find any means I can to figure out how to continue this. This it's so much fun because I care. I want to do something that can possibly make a difference and contribute to something larger. But I also I love cars. I love the mechanical and technical aspect of it.
Zach Howard And this is that perfect combination for me. And so this has become my passion in school right now, you know, whatever that looks like outside. However closely I can be involved, I want to be.
Lee Ball So, Logan, I happen to know a little bit about what you're doing this summer, and you had mentioned about tech companies that have been attracted to the students that are involved in these competitions. How has your experience with Team Sunergy influenced your career path and can you share a little bit about what you're doing this summer?
Logan Richardson Team Sunergy has had such an incredible and immense impact on my life and my career trajectory. It's given me the opportunity to get hands on experience with engineering that you can't do in the classroom. In addition to that, the recruiters are there. So in particular, last year there were recruiters from Tesla and Blue Origin and I am headed on to an internship at Blue Origin.
Logan Richardson I'm going to go down to their launch site in Van Horn, Texas, and I'll be working on their test and flight ops team to help test their prototypes and develop telemetry for their rocket systems. It's it's it's my wildest dream come true. It, it really, really and truly is. And Team Sunergy...Team Synergy opened that door for me.
Logan Richardson Truly, because I was able to, at the race, I was able to speak with the recruiters. Over this past Thanksgiving break, they hey flew me out to their headquarters and I got to tour their rocket production facility. They paired me with a mentor and that's now led to an internship. And the next step from here is career in aerospace engineering.
Logan Richardson So, hats off to Team Sunergy for opening that door.
Lee Ball Nice. Maybe the next time I have you on the podcast, you'll be joining us from Mars. Yeah, we'll see so. Well, thank you very much. It's been a real pleasure talking to both of you. Can't thank you enough for all the time that you've invested in the project and Team Sunergy. It means the world to me.
Lee Ball It means the world to Appalachian State University. And thanks so much.