It’s electric: BOLT III provides interdisciplinary opportunity for students to zoom into real-world experience
As Virginia Tech’s Battery Operated Land Transportation (BOLT) motorcycle team gears up for another year of competition, their brand-new bike, the BOLT III, is revving up the electric-powered vehicle industry in more ways than one.
Now in its third iteration, the bike is shaping up as a solid challenger to gas-powered motorcycles with combustion engines.
“The BOLT III power train is what we are most proud of,” said Gordon O’Neill, who has graduated but began as a team member on the BOLT project as a sophomore in computer engineering and served as a team lead last year as a senior. “Our motor, controller, and batteries all work well together. It can be challenging for collegiate teams to tune all those components together.”
During his first year on the team, O’Neill worked on the software that allows the dashboard touch screen to talk to the other parts of the bike controller.
The prototype BOLT bikes are built by a team of students hailing from majors across the College of Engineering, including the departments of Mechanical Engioneering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Computer Science. Those on the BOLT project work in three subteams divided into power train, controls, and chassis.
The BOLT project began in 2011 with BOLT I, a light and simple bike that was the very definition of a “prototype” bike harboring errant wires inside its chassis.
Its successor, BOLT II, was more of a custom bike that could reach top speeds of 170 mph. It last raced and won in February 2016 in Roebling, Georgia.
“We did so well in that race the judges did not think we were a collegiate team and forgot to score us against the BRAMMOs, a class of commercial electric bikes,” said C.R. Gittere, the competitive motorcycle rider who piloted BOLT II to a decisive win in its last race.
Gittere also owns a motorcycle software company, and as a business owner himself, knows the value of practical experience outside of the classroom.
“I can see a direct correlation between the participation in the BOLT project and opportunities students receive in internships and other employment that set them off and running in life,” said Gittere. “I enjoy working with the students because, in my experience, they are really intelligent and will do what it takes to find out how to solve a problem on the bike. At the end of the day the students always figure it out.”
BOLT III has evolved into a formidable production-like bike capable of reaching speeds near 190 mph. The bike’s racing speed is about 150 mph and can go from zero to 60 mph in about 3.3 seconds.
One advantage of the BOLT III in the racing arena is the customizable battery pack. Batteries can be removed, making the bike lighter when necessary for shorter races.
Beyond technical experience, the BOLT project is also providing opportunities for students to gain valuable experience that is translatable to real-world employers.
“My work on the BOLT team initially helped me get my internship at Northrop Grumman,” said O’Neill. “The point of BOLT in general is to get out of the classroom and to do something physical. I joined BOLT for that reason, I wanted some out of class projects to put on my resume, and I became team lead because I was excited about addressing the challenges we saw in BOLT II.”
O’Neill also learned to navigate management tasks while working on BOLT III, directing human resources to where they were most needed in areas of expertise.
Sponsors of the team include General Motors, SolidWorks, the Student Engineer’s Council, Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, and Qt.
BOLT III is scheduled to make its debut at the eMotoRacing Varsity Challenge July 15 and 16 in Millville, New Jersey. It has a big chassis to fill, given the legacy of BOLT II and its win in the last race the team competed in.
As for O’Neill, in addition to starting full-time employment in the fall at Northrop Grumman, where he interned as an undergraduate, he’ll also be crossing another real-world experience off his list that is owed to the BOLT project: getting his motorcycle license.
Written by Amy Loeffler