Engineering Students Show Off Manpower in Human-Powered Vehicle Challenge

May 7, 2012

Engineering students from colleges and universities throughout the West gathered in Tooele over the weekend to compete in the Human Powered Vehicle Challenge, using models they've designed and built themselves.

These races are probably the quietest ever to take place at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, but the crowd is no less enthusiastic. Jonathan Sanders from Missouri University of Science and Technology won Saturday's drag race. His ride, Chronos, looks a bit like a black kidney bean with a bicycle wheel:

“It's probably the most aerodynamic or in the top three most aerodynamic bikes here. It's not quite as complicated as some of the others. We went a little bit for the simplistic side of it this year for reliability purposes. We have a smooth drive train and it's really working out for us.”

In fact, Chronos is so aerodynamic that, like a bicycle, it can't remain upright unless in motion. Luckily, Sanders says there is landing gear beneath the seat.

“When we want to start and stop, we are required to do it unassisted  so we have a switch right here. It's off right now due to reduced weight for these races today, but we'll flip the switch and the landing gear will deploy, the doors will open and we will be able to stay upright without falling over.”

He says they spend the year training on old models from past competitions, adding that the most exciting aspect of the challenge is the practical knowledge engineering students gain.

“You learn what works, what doesn't, what can actually be built and what can't versus an engineering student who who may not have this experience. Anyone can design a part. Not everyone can design a part that can actually be built.”

He says the fact that he's participating in the race, which was organized by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers gives him a huge advantage in the job market.

Mark Archibald is the Chair of ASME's Human Powered Vehicle Challenge. He says the project gives students hands-on experience but the vehicles also serve a real world purpose:

“Ultimately the idea is they could be used as an alternative transportation. Tomorrow's race they actually have to carry some groceries and simulate riding in the real world. Vehicles like this can offer savings in terms of energy consumption, greenhouse gas emission, tremendous savings in cost.”

The key to the competition is elegance in design and ingenuity, including presentation, practicality and safety. He says students often use their own vehicles to get around on campus and as models for future projects.

In the end Missouri S & T Senior Jonathan Sanders, who won the speed race on the first day of the challenge, also took the number one spot in the endurance race.

Nineteen colleges and universities took part in the Western Human Powered Vehicle Challenge.