Photo: YouTube/ Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics
Huron High School (Team 13403) 2020 Presentation

High schoolers crack the code to truck electrification

May 6, 2020
After beginning the project back in March, select high school students were given 14 consecutive hours to solve real-world problems related to electric trucks.

Despite all the changes that COVID-19 has brought to the world, truckers continue to deliver goods and companies continue to work on new technologies to continue to improve the industry.

Trucking learned a long time ago that collaboration often leads to creative solutions to puzzling problems — or at least providing new insights.

But sometimes we get too insular and think only people who know about trucking can solely solve trucking-related problems. The reality is that sometimes the best ideas come from smart people who lack industry-specific knowledge.

I was reminded of this because of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics’ (SIAM) recent MathWorks Math Modeling Challenge (M3). If you are not familiar with the program, it involves teams of high school students who use mathematical modeling tools to solve a real-world challenge. In this year’s challenge the 760 teams were given 14 consecutive hours to solve problems related to electric trucks. More specifically, they had to create a model to predict the percentage of semi trucks that will be electric in the next few years and decades.

They also were asked to determine the number and locations of charging stations along major U.S. trucking routes that will be needed for an all-electric trucking industry. And, finally, they were asked to prioritize which routes should be targeted first for development of electric charging infrastructure. NACFE helped design the questions for this year’s challenge and shared information and data on trucking and electric trucks.  We were blown away by the work these kids did.

Without a background in trucking, they validated some of NACFE’s finding including the fact that there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to electric trucks. We all are familiar with the saying “out of the mouths of babes,” in this case I think it should be modified to ”out of the minds of babes.”

The NACFE team is reviewing the reports they submitted to see what we can learn from the work they did. For those of you who are skeptical about whether we can learn anything from a bunch of high school students, consider this:

  1. George Westinghouse was only 19 when he began working on what would become the rotary steam engine.
  2. Philo Farnsworth was 14 when he made his first sketch of what would become the electronic television.
  3. An 18-year-old Alexander Graham Bell began working on a way to transmit speech, which lead to the invention of the telephone.
  4. Blaise Pascal was 19 when he created the mechanical calculator.

If you have not checked out the work of the M3 finalists, I encourage you to do so. If you do not want to read the 20-page papers, at least watch the videos. These are some pretty amazing kids and we all can learn a lot from them. I already have.

About the Author

Michael Roeth | Executive Director

Michael Roeth has worked in the commercial vehicle industry for nearly 30 years, most recently as executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE). He serves on the second National Academy of Sciences Committee on Technologies and Approaches for Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium and Heavy-Duty Vehicles and has held various positions in engineering, quality, sales, and plant management with Navistar and Behr/Cummins.

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