By Phil Butler*
In October of 2018, Aristotle University’s “Electric – Aristurtle Racing Team” revealed a new electric racecar to the world. Named “Iris”, the unique vehicle is the fruit of individual and team collaboration; but more importantly, it tells a story of an amazing young generation of Greek engineers.
The only question that remains is, can outstanding young people such as these remain in Greece, and create a future with their brilliant ideas?
Aristotle University’s “Aristurtle”
The “Aristurtle” car concept came to life back in 2013 at the Polytechnic School of Aristotle University. It was here that “Electra,” the first-ever electric race car from northern Greece, was unveiled back in 2016.
Further developments led to the creation of a car which was affectionately dubbed “Eve” and subsequent improvements led to the most recent model. The new “Iris” racecar is 40 kilos (88 pounds) lighter than Eve, and has a battery management system which is 180% more efficient than any previous model. It is also boasts a 32-bit microprocessor, and is generally more compact and sturdy.
Since an initial third-place finish at Formula Student Italy ATA 2014, Aristurtle cars have placed prominently in subsequent events, placing first in “Business Plan” and fifth overall at Formula SAE Italy in 2018.
These competitions are part of the testing ground for the next generation of world-class automotive engineers. A student design competition, “Formula SAE” was created by the Society of Automotive Engineers International. Achievements earned by engineers at these competitions are huge milestones for them individually, for their team, and for their universities.
Greece has a population of only about 10 million — but the ratio of talented Greek people on the worldwide stage is impressive by any measure. The implications of the brain drain experienced by Greece for generations are many. Thus, the Aristurtle project is a kind of poster child for unbelievable talent and determination — especially during a time where financial failure is the largest worldwide headline coming out Greece.
Enter a young man named Michael Kanoupakis, the team member responsible for advanced materials science on the “Iris” project.
Kanoupakis was studying electrical engineering at Aristotle University when he was recruited to the Aristurtle team. The son of a prominent cardiologist in Crete, Kanoupakis is not your typical geek gadget builder. His focus has been on physics, something which naturally lends itself to advanced materials development.
An interview I had with the Aristotle University student revealed a great deal about the SAE competitions, and about the makeup of 21st-century engineers in Greece.
Speaking about what he considers the most vital aspects of engineering in the electric car project, Kanoupakis explained, “In Formula student competition, the acceleration and the dynamic of the vehicle have the most important role. The track has very specific characteristics which let you exploit these two attributes of your vehicle to the maximum.”
Kanoupakis said the team is now focused on further advancements in composite materials such as carbon fiber and lightweight aluminum alloys, as well simplifying and streamlining the design of many parts. The Aristurtle project has become a university classroom and laboratory in itself, one which continues to experiment in an unending pursuit of perfection.
Kanoupakis is one of a few hundred thousand Greek citizens in higher education, and he attends Greece’s largest university — but he stands out in that he is one of the very few who still hopes for career opportunities at home. Having graduated from the Aristurtle lab, the young engineer takes his experiences forward into an uncertain future. Greece is training the world’s new talent — but at the same time, it is losing her most brilliant people to globalization.
“Not” Made in Greece
The exodus of Generation G (“young, talented, Greek”) people from the country has been termed by the British newspaper The Guardian as “the biggest brain drain in an advanced western economy in modern times.”
Asking Kanoupakis about his future role in creating the ultimate electric solution to the world’s pollution issues, he replied, “Replacing internal combustion cars with fully electric ones is the only way to decrease petroleum use and limit the effects of global warming. New CO2 emission limits will be applied from 2020 in the EU, and the fines will be unbearable.”
Artisturtle is in some ways a project that mirrors the innovation of people like Tesla legend Elon Musk. However, it is laboratory experiments such as those of the Aristurtle team which will uncover that new battery technology, or make possible the cost reductions which will make commercial electric cars more than just a flight of fancy.
However, as positive this message of progress is, it’s the brain drain warning within this story of positivity that deserves our most adamant attention. Mike Kanoupakis plans to get his masters degree in power electronics, and then to combine it with management. After that, he states, “it depends on the opportunities that will exist in Greece and especially in Crete.”
Unfortunately, for tens of thousands of brilliant Greek minds, such opportunities have almost always existed far away from home. Here’s hoping that for Kanoupakis and the rest of the young Aristurtle engineers, that will not be the case any longer.
*Phil Butler is Editor in Chief of the Argophilia Travel News