If you have ever been in Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTCs), you have Bob Larsen to thank.
Bob Larsen is a true pioneer of advanced vehicles. Just look at his resume: From being the former Director of Center for Transportation Research at Argonne National Laboratory to becoming the Green Racing Program Manager to being a former member of the Board of Directors for SAE International, Larsen has done it all. But it’s his work with the AVTC program that makes him a living legend.
In the late 1980s, Larsen starting thinking about ways of getting non-petroleum fueled vehicles on the road and how to accelerate the acceptance of advanced vehicles in the public. Larsen and Phil Patterson of the U.S. Department of Energy wanted to partner with SAE on a new type of student competition that involved re-engineering production vehicles with using renewable fuels. That simple idea has turned into the 23-year history of AVTCs.
“We had to think outside of the box,” said Larsen. “We wanted to motivate younger engineers and provide learning opportunities.”
During the first competition, Methanol Marathon, Larsen saw the spark in the younger generation that he had been hoping for. And over the years, that spark is still there. From Methanol Marathon to the latest competition, EcoCAR 2: Plugging In to the Future, Larsen says it is hard for him to pick his favorite.
‘The competitions were like my children, you can’t pick just one!”
And for some, like former competition organizer Mike Duoba of Argonne National Laboratory, was like a father figure.
“He was enthusiastic, motivated, and dedicated. He always understood where the students were coming from and believed that they could make a difference in the world,” said Duoba. Larsen understood students, even when they decide to dump water on his head at a FutureTruck Awards Ceremony!
“He took it in stride,” said Duoba. “He took it as if he were the coach getting drenched after a big win.”
Throughout the years, Larsen has really gone above and beyond for competitions. Current AVTC Director for Argonne National Laboratory, Kristen De La Rosa, said that Larsen hired her to help with competitions after her work for the Propane Vehicle Challenge in 1997.
“I remember during my interview he told me how this job would change people’s lives, and affect the automotive industry for generations,” she said. “He really had a strong vision for the AVTC program which inspired everyone around him.”
So what’s next for Larsen? After retiring from a 33 year career at Argonne in November, Larsen will start his own consulting company to continue his work with electric drive technologies and fuels. For Larsen, it seems like his vision he had in the 1980s is still alive and growing.
“After all of these years, competitions have really gone above and beyond my original vision,” he said. “Competition graduates were provided learning opportunities and now are in industry working on advanced vehicles and technologies. If anything, that is true success.”
Check out the slideshow below to see photos of Bob Larsen from past AVTCs!