Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Discovery Green

Two years ago today was opening day for Houston's new Convention-Center park, Discovery Green. Many people thought it would never get much use from ordinary folks, not in torrid, gas-guzzling Houston and certainly not downtown, which for many years was a barren bricolage of skyscrapers and parking lots. Wrong. Attendance at the park is way over projections. Conventioneers just love having it there. And it sometimes serves as the backdrop for really cool stuff.

Several weeks ago I was one of the guests at Comicpalooza, held in the George R. Brown Convention Center. As it turned out the SFF track was sketchy. I spent some time across the street where Discovery Green had a race course blocked off on the streets along its perimeter. The occasion was the Shell Eco-Marathon. College and high school team from the U.S., Canada and and elsewhere had designed vehicles to maximize gas mileage. They were little vehicles, in most cases sized around the smallest driver the team could come up with, but they maximized gas mileage in a big way.

So I wandered over from the comic book convention to one of the cordoned-off streets. Before long here came this thing like a scurrying white beetle.

There were more where that one came from.

They honked at each other as they went for the inside of the turns. By race rules they had to go at least fifteen miles an hour. Some of them were speedier than that.

In the dappled shade at the edge of Discovery Green, the pit area was full of intent teams with their vehicles.

I watched the guy with the green flag launching the vehicles for a new lap of the marathon. Off and away they went.

This sleek entry from Laval University in Quebec ultimately won the Grand Prize in the Prototype category with 2,487.5 mpg.(!)

Purdue took home a prize in the solar-power-assisted category with mileage in the high 4000's miles per gallon. Onlookers joked about it being a stealth eco-car.

Honors in the fuel cell category went to the Clean Green Machine from Cicero-North Cyracuse High School. It's the green one pictured above in the pit area.

Another winner of the race was the world, with a new generation of bright engineers figuring out how to optimize our fossil fuel resources. That's quite a nice kind of discovery to happen on the perimeter of a green urban park.

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