Students design, build and race human-powered vehicles

5/20/2009 | By: Mike Wolterbeek  |

The human-powered vehicle Carmen Sandiego, designed and built by a group of mechanical engineering students from the University of Nevada, Reno, finished first-place in the race portion of the recent Human Powered Vehicle Challenge held in Portland, Ore., despite a 30-minute downpour during the race.

“It was a rainy Saturday and we had no major problems or breakdowns,” project leader and HPVC club chairman Jason Ross said about the team’s performance in the utility division of the western region of the HPV Challenge. “We had a few minor problems that took just a few minutes to fix.”

The team finished the obstacle course-type utility event 14 seconds ahead of Colorado State University. With the results of the design portion added into the results of the engineering competition the Nevada team finished second place overall.

The HPV Challenge, an American Society of Mechanical Engineers event, drew 28 universities from around the west. The 15-member Nevada team placed sixth overall in the “single rider” event, which is a combination of speed, endurance and design for a vehicle that holds a single rider, in this case a low-slung recumbent tricycle named Waldo. “Every team had to stop for mechanical breakdowns, except for us,” Michael Chilton, team vice-chair said. Chilton also rode Waldo, along with other team members, in the endurance portion of the event.

“It’s pretty noisy inside the full-fairing shell,” he said. “First, it’s a metal frame, with the thin carbon/Kevlar shell, then you add bumps and rough surface. It really amplifies any noise.”

The fully encased aerodynamic trike began as a bike, and the team decided a few days before leaving for Portland to change the bike to a trike by using the front-end design from the Carmen Sandiego trike. They replaced the single front tire with a wider axle and two front tires, giving it more stability.

“There were a couple of alignment issues so we weren’t as fast as we could have been,” Chilton said.

The vehicles are custom built by the students using parts they manufacture in the metal shop and parts from local bicycle shops. They put the finishing touches on the two trikes after a flurry of work that lasted through the night until they left for the competition in Portland early the next morning.

“We made sure the drivers didn’t stay up late working, but I worked until about 5:30 a.m. along with others on the team,” Ross said.

The utility course simulates everyday driving problems that could be encountered, so the vehicle is designed for transportation such as commuting to work or school, shopping trips and general transportation. Besides speed bumps, parking problems, driveway ramps, rough pavement and hairpin turns, the rider must load and unload parcels at stops along the way.

The endurance race uses a two-kilometer loop with multiple laps. The sprint race uses a 100-yard speed trap preceded by a 600-meter acceleration section.


For more news on the University of Nevada, Reno, follow @unevadareno on Twitter.

Get Nevada Today in your Inbox!