A Teen on the Fuel-Efficient Fast Track

Brandon Ford is building electric cars and fielding invitations to the White House, all while finishing the 11th grade. When you read what he has to say, you'll know why he made The Root's 2011 list of Young Futurists.

Brandon Ford

Not many teenagers get to sit in the first lady's box during the State of the Union address. Then again, not many teenagers build electric cars after school.

Brandon Ford, 18, is a member of Hybrid X, a student organization at West Philadelphia High School dedicated to innovative car engineering. When President Barack Obama said, "We need to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world," during his 2011 State of the Union address, he was talking about the innovative spirit shown by Hybrid X.

Last year Ford and the team submitted two hybrid cars in the Progressive Automotive X Prize competition, which requires entrants to present production-ready, fuel-efficient vehicles. The inner-city high school students outlasted global competitors from automotive corporations and prestigious universities, a feat that caught the attention of President Obama.

When the Hybrid X team was invited to the White House last fall, however, Ford forgot his ID and wasn't allowed past security. His luck changed with a second chance in January, when he scored a personal invitation to the State of the Union. Here, the first honoree in The Root's Young Futurist series talks about his tech obsession, meeting the president and being ahead of the car-industry curve.

TR: What sparked your interest in science?

BF: Since I was a little kid, I've liked learning about space and robotics, and today everything's about technology. You have to know about computers and science just to keep up, so I learn about every new gadget that comes out, like iPods and iPhones. But I like staying on top of upgraded technology in general.  

TR: In the X Prize competition, your team went head-to-head with corporations and universities. Were you intimidated?

BF: The team had been doing the X Prize for years before I even joined, so by the time I got there, it was just a regular thing to do. We didn't go in really expecting to win, but we [showed] that an inner-city high school can compete with major corporations and universities. We made it past the preliminary and middle rounds and didn't get knocked out until the final stretch, so we felt very honored.

TR: On your first go-round to the White House, when you forgot your ID, what did you do while everyone else met Obama?