The Hybrid Owner Experience

Altwheels 2007
After some of us thrashed around for a while trying to individually figure out
what we wanted to do as part of Altwheels this year, long story short, we got
together and did a shared exhibit booth.  Since each of us brought a unique set
of contributions and perspectives from what we've been working on, the display
was really about just how much fun we've been having with our hybrid vehicles.
From deep tech to fun graphics to helpful MPG and service hints, we became
the sort of hybrid go-to area for the show.  Seasoned owners and potential
buyers alike could come by and pick up lots of hints and web-pointers as well
as look at and play with some items they otherwise would probably never see.

The Altwheels coordinators had asked for an intro blurb about our group, and
although I don't think my submission ever made it into print anywhere, here's
what I ultimately sent in:

   When you think "hybrid", what do you envision -- an everyday Prius?
   Well, how about a hybrid starship?  Prefer a "Batmobile" kitted out
   with all kinds of mad-scientist modifications?  Or a cozy RV touring
   the countryside at 60+ miles per gallon?  How about well over 300,000
   miles of that same countryside seen from a single hybrid car, still
   going strong on its original battery?  Would you like plug-in charging
   capability with that?

   Swing by the Hybrid Owner Experience booth, and see how some hybrid
   drivers have turned it into a lifestyle.  Come play with our hands-on
   tech demos, and learn about the whole spectrum of real-life hybrid
   vehicle possibilities -- deep technical research and modifications,
   smart driving hints for maximum MPG, geeky graphics, and the vibrant
   community which has built up around these vehicles.  We'll put all the
   information resources right at your fingertips -- all the things that
   car dealers can't show you.  Whether you're hauling full loads to the
   campground and supplying on-site power from your car or just slicing
   silently through the grocery-store parking lot, here's where you can
   find out how to get the best from a hybrid and enjoy every minute
   of it.

      Jesse Rudavsky is probably the world's most seasoned Prius driver,
      with 320,000 miles on his '02 and a lot of great stories behind it.
      Vehicle: 2002 Prius

      Mike Dabrowski is our Honda Insight guru, inventor of MIMA and
      the all-electric E-Wheel, and an all-round tech guy who can build
      anything -- which his car clearly shows.  He also trains independent
      auto technicians about hybrid technologies so they can compete with
      the dealerships.
      Vehicle: 2000 Insight

      Hobbit is the Prius tech guy, whose car sports some interesting
      instrumentation mods and serves as the backdrop for a wealth of
      technical and operational information.  He's another advocate for
      independent auto shops working on hybrids.
      Vehicle: 2004 Prius

      Starfleet Captain Willie Yee has landed here with the Zhang
      Heng -- its five year mission to explore new worlds of energy
      and environmental conservation, to discover new educational and
      recreational opportunities, to Boldly Go where no Prius has gone
      before.  While his ship is docked at Altwheels, it will have an
      intermix preheater and neutron-flow polarity control installed
      in the warp core, to help him adventure farther on each kilo of
      dilithium crystals.
      Vehicle: 2007 Prius

      Doug Hartley is working to push transportation more in the direction
      of electric overall, by designing plug-in energy storage to assist
      hybrids or complete electric conversions of gas vehicles with optional
      onboard "series hybrid" range extenders.  He makes his own electronic
      components if they don't already exist, and knows where to obtain
      suitable batteries, contactors, and other parts.
      Vehicle: 2005 Prius

I also wrangled gathering all the vehicle and insurance info that City Hall
insisted on from the Altwheels staff, and sort of acted as the group
coordinator to pull us together.  It was sort of entertaining, once, but
I'm not a managerial type and I'm *not* doing that sort of bureaucratic
busy-work again.


Over the two days before the show, I pitched in to help prep the City Hall
Plaza site.  One major project was laying out and painting the big "wheel" in
the middle, working with Sidewalk Sam and his crew.  The two foreground people
are some others who worked on that part as well.  The white swoopy stuff is
the still-quite-visible remains of a big dove from an event a month before,
which hadn't washed away due to September's lack of rain and even Sidewalk was
a little surprised by its tenacity.  Before exhibitors started to roll in on
Thursday afternoon, there were also plants to deploy to "green the plaza",
signs to put up, and sites to mark.  The pots of mums eventually were placed
around the weighted bases of signposts to dress them up a bit.

One of the minor nightmares was the question of whether we could use our
personal pop-up tents or not, and how they would be weighted down.  Several
factors were at work: Peterson Party Rentals has some exclusive "contract"
with City Hall and initially everyone was told that all tents had to be
rented from them.  But then it seemed like exhibitor-owned tents were okay
as long as they and their hold-down design were "approved" by city inspectors,
without any information available as to an actual *spec* for such equipment.
Now, the Plaza does tend to get pretty windy sometimes, due to a tunneling
effect from nearby buildings, and tents do need to be secured against picking
up and blowing away.  This is what Peterson uses to hold down their tents --
big concrete blocks cast so they're round and can be rolled around by the
setup workers, weighing a couple hundred pounds in most cases.  Check the
big-picture for the overall idea -- you can also see a stock of the weights
off behind the van.  They also use large water barrels in some cases.  However,
their tents are generally larger than the typical 10x10 pop-up that everyone
who does outdoor events has now, and thus pull more in a stiff breeze.

But there was NFW we were going to fork up $450 a pop for rental canopies after
already lining enough city officials' pockets to exhibit in the first place, so
I went out to the Orange Box and bought six big cinderblocks -- not the normal
35-pound construction ones, I'm talking the *big* suckers that weigh at least
50 pounds apiece.  At about a nickel a pound, much more palatable to our
wallets.  It was almost a full day of work to wire-wheel them all reasonably
smooth and then paint them white -- the idea being to make them non-abrasive
in case someone brushed an ankle up against one.  They came out rather nice.
Those and some lengths of nylon rope to tie in the canopy legs, and I had a
simple system that would definitely work in all but a major hurricane.  The
best answer anyone could get on whether it was politically sufficient or not
was "maybe", which was still incredibly annoying.

Anyway, all the rental tents and tables and chairs were set up by Thursday
afternoon and then the volunteers turned to the tasks of incoming vehicle
coordination and guidance as the exhibitors began to arrive.  Large car-carrier
semis with low ground clearance couldn't maneuver onto the Plaza and had to
unload out on the street and the vehicles then driven or towed to their spots.
Spaces and corridors were much better marked this year than last, so this went
pretty smoothly overall with minor hitches when the duty cops started whining
about too many "delivery" vehicles on the Plaza.  At some point in the early
evening I bailed because I still had to pack all *my* stuff at home.

Show Days

The Altwheels staff noodled several possibilities for where to put our group,
and eventually settled on a sort of triangular area between two major walkways
and the stairs up to the T station.  I knew this by Thursday afternoon and lay
awake part of the night churning over how to array our tents and cars and by
our 6AM arrival the next morning, it was clear to me.  So, here's our layout!
I made sure to put Willie's car, probably the major visual attractor, toward
the bulk of the show, and slotted my own ride in next to the raised brick
tree-planter so I'd be out of the way but able to pull power from the inverter
in the back.

And aren't those cinderblocks pretty??

"HOE" for short?
Mike even printed up a slick sign/banner for the tents.

But with where we were, we didn't really necessarily have a specific front
or back of the area -- this is what the commuters coming out of the T station
would see.  On Friday morning, they'd be walking along heads-down toward the
financial canyons going "gottagettowork gottagettowork gottagettowork" and
then suddenly there'd be a strange-looking car in their way, possibly sparking
curiosity about what was going on.  In the background is John Tagiuri's green
globe structure.

On our second day [the nicer weather, although both days turned out fine] I
decided to bring back a little concept from two years ago to promote one of
our main exhibits for this year...

... a sort of museum-like self-guiding layout of our growing collection of
Prius parts, with labels explaining each piece and how they tie together.
The text of all the labels I Postscripted up for it is here.  There was
at least one comment made that I should have brought a different color of tape,
but I usually have a roll of black gaff in the car.  Be sure to take note of
an unusually resplendent cinderblock back there someplace, too.

The funniest part was that during teardown, the Peterson truck came by and
collected this table before I had a chance to pull all the labels off it.  So
maybe someone back at their shop got a little hybrid tech lesson that night.

Labels aside, Mike [and everyone else!] spent a lot of time explaining concepts
to booth visitors, having them crank up the 100 watts of effort to light the
headlights, and play with the HSD torque balance and the silicone encapsulant
goop around the power transistors.  And of course get the occasional lessons
on inverter design, Prius driveline longevity and Starfleet bridge operations.
It was pretty flat-out busy for all of both days, but we've come to expect
this at such events and it's great to be out there helping people understand
a whole lot of good things.

I did get to walk around a little bit, mostly during missions to return the
coffee to the great cycle of life.  Here's one of the gensets that Capron
brought in to supply power.  We didn't need their feed because I was running
my big inverter off the Prius to power the big monitor and Mike's self-running
planetary-gears demo.

I also got to chat with one of the "clean diesel" engineers from the VW
staff.  Their elaborate exhibit trailer was similar to the Toyota "Highway
to the Future" thing they had at Hybridfest, but with less interactive stuff.
I walked over and started asking "okay, where's the *real* information like
the whitepapers on how all this works" and they actually pointed me at one of
the guys who worked on it, who explained a bunch of stuff about the piezo
injectors and three-way catalysts and inner and outer EGR loops.  Pretty cool,
I thought, but OMG what a lot of extra plumbing.  Finding real design-level
people at trade shows is often a rarity but if you can and get 'em talking
about what they love to do, wow.  No, we're not obsessed geeks at all.

Yes, this is heresy.  But a bunch of kids came by, on a scavenger hunt of some
sort, and needed someone with "red sox apparel" that they could sully with
opposing-team promo gear and then get a picture of it.  We took pity on them,
and it was all fairly amusing.  The identity of the wearer has been withheld
by request but a little clever searching around may reveal some strong clues.

On-site mods

Later in the afternoon, it was time to tear into Doc Willie's car and install
his block heater.  We grabbed a couple of spare police barricades to make some
work space around the car.  After getting the cowl apart I was standing there
with thermal grease all over the heater and my finger, and everybody busted out
laughing for some reason.  Prius proctology, or something.  Another hint: I
didn't shoot this particular run of pictures, our New York Sox fan did.

The most fun part was explaining the entire operation in Star Trek terminology
to people passing by.  An example occurrs near the beginning of my trip report
from heading to Kentucky the following week when I stopped by Doc's house
to debug the EV module, and the whole concept has gone entirely too far in
this thread.

From above or below, getting the heater into the right place, lined up, and
seated into the hole is always a bit of a reach.  At least you can *see* it
from above, but it involves taking more parts out first.  I also prefer the
slightly cleaner wire run path available with the cowl removed.

Heater installed, wires dressed, and the cowl goes back in with a little
anti-seize added to the bolts...

and the trim plastic and gaskets clip right back in.  Easy.  Much more detail
on cowl removal/replacement and block heaters is here.

You didn't *really* want a bigger picture of my ass, did you?  sheez
The obligatory tech butt-shot.  Almost every event winds up with one.  Doc's
got another one in his own captain's log.

Next, Doc attacked grille block-offs, using the foam pipe-insulation method.

But to zip-tie it in, access behind the nose was needed, necessitating removal
of the top "radiator cover" plastic piece.


Here's the bunch of us, including Doug's friend Daniel who came down to help.
We got a lot of positive feedback about the whole exhibit -- people evidently
liked it, and the Altwheels coordinators were really tickled once they had time
to actually come over and see what we'd put together.  And in contrast to some
previous years, the weather for both days was great.  A bit more windy on the
second day, as may be seen from the billowing tent and the flyers curling up
by themselves.

After getting gas on the second morning and running the car part of the day
sitting still to keep the inverter batteries topped up, and then lumbering
home with 300 pounds of cinderblocks [did I mention the cinderblocks?] and
heavy transmission parts and my tent and whatever else, the car was showing
36.something MPG average that night.  It was quite the chore to work that back
up toward the sixties as I started my next journey two days later!

_H* 071022