A team of students from The University of Alabama College of Engineering placed second in the 2015 annual American Society of Mechanical Engineers Human Powered Vehicle Team competition in Gainesville, Florida, in May.
Along with finishing second place overall out of more than 30 teams in the regional contest, the team placed second in a women’s 400-meter drag race, fourth in the male-drag race, second in endurance and fifth in design. The team was judged on design, safety and performance.
For the competition, the students, all studying mechanical engineering, were tasked with constructing a tricycle with two wheels in front and one in back, called a recumbent tadpole vehicle. The team focused on making this year’s vehicle lighter and more efficient, reducing its weight from more than 100 pounds to 80 pounds.
The students built a truss-style frame for the vehicle by using locally grown bamboo from Greensboro, Alabama, and 3-D printed pieces to connect the bamboo. These joints were wrapped in carbon fiber and bonded with epoxy resin to hold. The 20-pound frame was load tested to 650 pounds in UA’s Large Scale Structures Lab to ensure safety in the event of a rollover.
To make the vehicle faster, the team altered the vehicle to make it front-wheel drive, since a rear-wheel drive vehicle requires a heavy chain that stretches from the front of the vehicle to the rear wheels, increasing drag.
An aerodynamic outer body was made from a carbon fiber-divinycell foam sandwich and outfitted with tinted LEXAN polycarbonate windows. The removable body helped increase speed, which achieved a top speed of 35 miles per hour.
The ASME HPV competition aims to use engineering principles to create more sustainable transportation alternatives, particularly in developing nations where human-powered vehicles are often the only form of transportation available.
In 1837, The University of Alabama became one of the first five universities in the nation to offer engineering classes. Today, UA’s College of Engineering has more than 5,800 students and more than 130 faculty. In recent years, students in the College have been named USA Today All-USA College Academic Team members, Goldwater, Hollings, Portz, Boren, Mitchell and Truman scholars.