Come one, come all, the future of transportation is upon us, and it isn’t a hovercraft. It’s a bio-fuel machine capable of running on Doritos, Taco Bell, and french fries. It’s called the bicycle.
Ten students from Missoula College are in the process of building a “human powered vehicle” to enter into the Human Powered Vehicle Challenge, a national competition taking place at NASA’s Ames Research Center in San Jose, Calif.
Hosted by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the three-day challenge is composed of three parts: design, sprint and endurance. Teams will be judged on a cumulative score at the end of the competition.
But entering into the competition and competing is not as simple as creating a bike and showing up. The design section alone involves the team producing a 30-page document, engineer-style, which includes formulas, analysis, and testing of the bike. On the second day, a quarter-mile sprint is organized in which teams race head-to-head. An obstacle course awaits the third day, which intends to simulate situations the operator might encounter in a public scenario, involving coming to a complete stop and making hairpin turns within the width of a city street. The endurance portion of the competition is grueling and involves a half-hour timed circuit, in which teams attempt to log as many laps as possible.
Last year’s Missoula College team went into the competition blind and managed to finish 13th out of 18 teams. They are creating the bike in a capstone course at a two-year college, while the majority of the other teams come from specific engineering programs at four-year schools. Learning from their mistakes, and carrying over some of the staff from last year, the team hopes to fare quite a bit better.
One of the team members, Nathaniel Ferro, knows that his team is up against the odds.
“We’re kind of turning out to be a Goliath and David, hanging out with the slingshot,” Ferro said. “But this is our slingshot and it’s got a pretty good bullet in it this year,” Ferro said.
Nathaniel Lucas, who is in charge of computer designing and machining many of the parts for the project, can see just how unique this project is.
“We’re taking the initiative to do something that is typically only done in a four-year college, and an engineering school at that,” Lucas said. “It’s a cool technology to be able to take two people on basically a bicycle, and go out and be able to do what a car does.”
Creating a futuristic, all-wheel drive bike concept has caused problems for the team, and they have resorted to salvaging parts from other projects, enlisting the help of Free Cycles, as well as machining their own parts.
“Trying to fund this is just one of the biggest things ever,” Ferro said. “We’re independent, we’re not part of, technically, much of a department. They don’t have a budget for us. We have to go out and find the money to do all this and that includes sending ten people down to San Jose, Calif., and that is not cheap.”
The goal of the team, Ferro said, is to make the bike exciting, and hopefully encourage people to use alternative forms of transport in the future. The bike has a fully enclosed cab and is capable of travelling up to 50 mph as well as seating two people, which could be very appealing to Missoulians.
“In Missoula, this kind of bike could rock around nine months out of the year,” he said. “And with the shell on, 10, because we’re out of the weather now.”
The competition will run from April 12-14 and happens on the same field they refurbished the space shuttle on, tickling every science nerd’s fancy. But the team expects to be working up to the very last minute before their hopeful celebrations begin.