Most of the time, school projects aren't remarkable. However, there are notable outliers. Tom Burick, a technology instructor at PS Academy, seeks to have his in-class activities fall into the latter category. PS Academy is a K-12 school based in Gilbert, Arizona that focuses on supporting students living with autism and other exceptionalities.

When it came time to create an engaging class activity for the fall 2022 semester, Tom Burick proposed an idea to his class: creating a functional electric car. His class was eager to start the project, but they first had to decide on what style of car to build. Coming to a harmonious agreement, the class agreed on building their own Tesla Cybertruck.

"It's a pretty unique vehicle, and it's instantly recognizable. We wanted to be up for the challenge," said Kai, a student at PS Academy. With six months to build the replica Cybertruck, Burick and the help of 70 students began to plan how to bring the idea to fruition.

From Concept To Reality

PS Academy Cybertruck Building

Like in the real-world automotive production process, the class first had to make a concept. "We got references of the Cybertruck from the top to see how it would look {vertically}," Ember told InsideEVs in an interview with the class. After gathering the dimensions, the team parlayed the recordings onto a cardboard model.

"We did the full prototype out of cardboard before we actually started building it," Burick said. "We only had a 4'x8' sheet— that's all we could fit in a lab— so we couldn't do a 17 feet long Cybertruck. It could only be 8 feet long, and we knew it would change the dimensions of the truck significantly. In that tiny space, we knew we had to make it look like the Cybertruck. We spent a significant amount of time just playing with the dimensions trying to get something 8 feet long to look like a Cybertruck."

Eventually, the team finished the cardboard prototype. "We had the trunk, front, the bumpers, and everything all glued together to show the prototype," said Theo. After completing the prototype, Burick contacted the Tesla Driver's Club of Scottsdale to see if any Tesla owners would like to check out what he and his students were working on.

"I reached out to David {Lucht}... the president of the Tesla Driver's Club of Scottsdale… and invited him to the school," Burick told InsideEVs. "He brought his Tesla out, and he demoed it to us. He did some autonomous driving with the kids in it… and we were just in awe. Then he came into the classroom, and we showed him our cardboard model."

"He wanted to see what we had so far, and he was really interested in our project," added Kai. After seeing the students' work, Lucht wanted to get involved with the project. "He graciously donated $200 to launch the project for us. It was extremely kind. He followed us through the project, and we kept on giving him updates," Burick said. "{Lucht} was instrumental in this— he's a good guy."

Onto The Production Version

PS Academy Cybertruck body

After some support from the EV community, the team got to work on producing a highly-refined version of the original prototype. Instead of cardboard, the team opted for extruded polystyrene, or Pink Panther foam, due to its lightweight properties and low cost. "The body is made out of the Pink Panther foam, and we used 'poor man's fiberglass' to make it stronger. We painted over it in gray, so it's like the Cybertruck," Nathan told InsideEVs.

After finalizing the body, the team shifted their resources toward the Cybertruck's powertrain. To house the powertrain, the team used PVC pipes and wood as the platform to mount the battery and motors. "We added plastic pipes, and we have a wooden frame board," said Carson. "I cut the wood out for the seats," Rigel added. But they received news about an opportunity before the team could proceed with the truck's development.

Time Crunch

PS Academy Cybertruck

"We got invited to a really exclusive Concours car event by the Tesla Driver's Club of Scottsdale," Burick said. However, the opportunity cost came in terms of time; the event was in a month. "We were kind of in a panic as this was a six-month project."

As Tesla CEO Elon Musk would say, the team entered the phase of "production hell." With four weeks remaining to finish the truck, Burick and his students had to significantly expedite their Cybertruck's development. "Our mantra for the whole project was seventy engineers, one truck, and four weeks," Burick told InsideEVs.

Once adjusting to the new time constraint, the class resumed development. After completing the platform, the next task was to add the axles. But an issue arose when it came time to mate the steering wheel to the axles.

"There was a problem with the steering system," said Ember. "The wheels were having a problem where the nut on the wheel was turning with it and kept tightening, so that would cause {the assembly} to freeze and not move."

"Steering was a big challenge for us in terms of engineering," added Burick. "We had a lot of problems with the steering, but we stuck with it and got some experts involved and we got it ironed it." After fixing the steering issue, the car was nearly done, save a powertrain and a driver. For the first, the team installed two 12V electric motors along with a lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) battery.

The class chose their fellow student Jamison to be the driver. "I'm actually the driver," Jamison told InsideEVs. "It was just a very exhilarating experience just driving it through the halls here. It's just a very fun thing that I got to do. I've just been waiting to drive it, to be a part of this project, ever since Mr. Burick told me about it."

Finishing Touches

PS Academy Cybertruck

After the prototype was drivable, the team applied some finishing touches to the truck. The class wanted their Cybertruck to look the part, so the team got to work on adding seats, windows, and a way to get inside and out.

Once the truck was ready, the team painted it and prepared for the show. "We laser cut the Tesla logo and… the wheels are 3D printed," Burick told InsideEVs. Finished just in time for the car show and sitting at 8 feet long, the Cybertruck was ready to go.

Future Plans

Gallery: School Cybertruck Project

After getting the car ready on time, the team brought the car to the show. Naturally, the Cybertruck drew much attention, and the reception was very positive. In total, Concours in the Hills raised $430,000 for Phoenix Children's Hospital.

After the car show, the team had two options: to build something entirely next or work on what they already had. "We had mostly decided that once we were done with our two events, we could either start something new or continue working on it," said Hannah. "So we decided that we wanted to continue working on it. So far since the event, we've added a dashboard, and we've added a radio and a stereo system."

"It took us about an hour or so to add the radio, Bluetooth, and the battery itself. It was very hard for us to wire it {together}," said Jay. As for the truck's stereo system, they opted for a beefy 400W system, including a subwoofer. "When we first tested {the audio system}, and we started playing music, you could feel the stereo— and it was shaking, it was so loud. It felt like there was a party in this school," said Carson.

Additionally, the team wanted to make their current vehicle more functional. "We are actually going to be putting in pedals. We currently have a switch and a knob, the knob is basically the speed controller: if you turn the knob up, that increases the speed and if you turn it down, that just makes it stop. The switch either controls if it's in forward, park or reverse," Jamison told InsideEVs. "Pedals are one of the things that we are definitely going to add in the future."

With all these upcoming additions, the team is excited for their future developments with the Cybertruck they've created. From showcasing their creation at an auto show to learning the fundamentals of how electric cars work, the team's confidence has never been higher. Perhaps we have just been introduced to the future leaders of electrification.

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