What’s entirely human-powered, and has engineering students racing from the East Coast to West and back again?
It’s the annual ASME Human Powered Vehicle Challenge, where over 20 teams of engineering students from across the country compete to build and race their own efficient, highly engineered vehicles, with the overall aim of working toward sustainable transportation for third-world countries.
Pretty cool idea, right? That’s why Knovel participates as a program sponsor. It’s also why I decided to sit down Ross Jensen, an engineering student from Missouri Institute of Science & Technology, whose team earned our very own Knovelty Award for Exceptional Creativity in Innovation and Design AND ranked 2nd place in the Unrestricted Class in HPVC’s East & West Coast races.
K-Exchange: First of all–Congrats! What was the most rewarding part of the competition?
Ross Jensen: I cannot say enough about this competition. This has been a huge growing experience for me and I know I can say the same for my teammates. After working so many hard days in the machine shop, trying to develop the next best human-powered vehicle, the best part of the whole experience is showing up to the competition and coming together to admire each other’s bikes. There is such great camaraderie at these competitions—loaning parts, tools, and bikes. Even many “top secret” ideas and techniques are divulged to the competition.
KX: Can you give me any insight into how The Titan operates and what strategies went into the design?
RJ: Titan is a mid-ride recumbent bicycle that operates with a titanium frame and full carbon fiber fairing. Aside from the exotic frame material, what really makes Titan stand out is its fully electronic landing gear system and reverse gear. Practicality and incorporation of these ideas into design was the focus of the team as they were the parts to make this vehicle stand out. In addition to focus on the new features, we had some extremely dedicated individuals who focused on the quality of the build and its show-worthiness.
KX: What have you learned throughout this journey and how have you grown as a student and engineer?
RJ: I have learned to plan as if nothing will go as planned, and that teamwork and flexibility is key. I learned this in addition to a ridiculous amount of knowledge gained in machining, composites, and design for manufacturability. Working on this design team is what’s going to give my teammates and I an edge over the typical engineering student.
RJ: The project we took on this year was a monstrosity to say the least, with many obstacles along the way! The night before the Indianapolis East Coast Competition was our first time racing in the current fairing, and the bike spent a great deal of time on its side. We also ran into electronic waterproofing issues and let the magic black smoke out. During the Bozeman West Coast Competition, we snapped a titanium fork into three pieces from unknown reasons, and bent the steel replacement later at a 45-degree angle due to a high-speed encounter with a curb head on. Fortunately, we fixed both of these issues in record time during the races. The motivation came from understanding how far we had come. We realized we couldn’t give up in the final hour.
KX: Would you recommend this competition to other college engineering students? What advice would you give them?
RJ: Do it! Just have fun and come race your contraption. The only advice to give would be to make sure your goals are not too lofty for your team size and time to devote to this project.
KX: How has this competition has shaped your goals for your future career?
RJ: I definitely want to do something with high performance and or alternative energy vehicles. Participating on this design team has definitely helped me understand all the different aspects of the design process, and I really like the conception and design optimization parts. My future career is going to have something to do with all of these, but I’m not quite sure what it is just yet.
KX: Since human-powered transport is often the only available type in the developing world, how do you think efforts like HPVC raise awareness for working towards sustainable transportation?
RJ: I really think when the general public sees us racing our ridiculous bikes around, it makes them rethink what a bicycle really is and what it can be! Overall, HPVC racing brings about simplifications in design and manufacturing processes, people can start to see how these bikes can be a practical, beneficial part of their life. Currently, I could foresee these bikes as a more practical way to travel in rural areas over longer distances. It’s really cool seeing where this competition is going.