Human-powered transport is often the only type of personal transportation available in underdeveloped or inaccessible parts of the world. If well designed, it can be an increasingly viable form of sustainable transportation.
The American Society of Mechanical Engineer's international Human Powered Vehicle Challenge provides a unique opportunity for students to demonstrate the application of sound engineering design principles in the development of sustainable and practical transportation alternatives. Undergraduate engineering students work in teams to design, develop and build efficient, highly engineered vehicles for everyday use from commuting to work, to carrying goods to market.
West Virginia University's Human Powered Vehicle team recently traveled to Grove City College, in Grove City, Pa., to compete in its first-ever competition. "Our team performed fantastically," said Kostas Sierros, research assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. "We placed seventh overall out of 34 competing teams from some of the best engineering schools in the eastern United States."
Vehicle performance was assessed in three main areas; design, speed and durability. On the first day of the three-day event, the team's tricycle vehicle underwent a safety inspection, which included demonstrating its ability to accelerate to 25 mph, to maneuver safely and to come to a complete stop within a distance of 20 feet.
The second day consisted of a drag racing event, split into two races. The competition required each team to have one female driver and one male driver compete in the two races. The team placed 10th overall in the quarter mile sprint drag event.
The third and final day culminated in the endurance event, a two and a half hour race where vehicle durability is of paramount importance. WVU's entry placed fifth in the event
"We learned a phenomenal amount in the competition," explained Caleb Lucas, a senior mechanical and aerospace engineering student. "We finished very close to some extremely strong and experienced teams even though it was only our first year in this competition."
The team won the "Energizer Bunny" award for the most reliable vehicle in the three-day long competition. "We didn't experience a single mechanical breakdown and we only used the pit-stops to change drivers," Sierros explained. "This is a fantastic achievement underlining the ability of the participating students to design for reliability."
The team is excited to get back to the drawing board to revamp their vehicle's design for next year's competition. Although changes will be made, the team plans to maintain the tricycle design, since it is highly durable, practical, stable and safe.
"We have many different ideas for improvements for next year," Lucas said. "We want to reduce weight and make some steering modifications. We also want to change the drive-chain gearing and we're hoping to implement more new ideas that the new student team members will propose."
"Our success was due in large part to the support of the chair of our department Jacky Prucz, and of my colleague, Ken Means, in advising the team and allowing us to use departmental equipment and facilities," Sierros added.
"I am very proud of the students and the hard work they put into this project to design and build a winning vehicle within a single semester," Sierros said. "The team demonstrated that we can achieve great success against our engineering peers. We are ready for improved performance and even more success in next year's competition."
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