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June 1, 2017

Better than your average bike: UW-Madison engineers among top finishers in Human Powered Vehicle Challenge

Written By: Adam Malecek


With an efficient, highly engineered vehicle, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Human Powered Vehicle team won fourth place overall in the 2017 ASME Human Powered Vehicle Challenge North America East.

The UW-Madison team competed against 45 student teams from around the world in the challenge, which was held April 21-23, 2017, at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville, Tennessee.

The team also took third place in the innovation category at the competition.

“I’m really happy with how the team did in the competition,” says mechanical engineering senior Victor Markus, the team’s chief engineer and vice president. “The leadership on the team was really solid, and everyone put a lot of hard work into designing and building our vehicle.”

ASME’s international Human Powered Vehicle Challenge provides an opportunity for students to design and build sustainable and practical transportation alternatives for everyday use, from commuting to work to carrying goods to market.

Each team creates a 30-page design report for its vehicle and gives a presentation at the competition. Then the teams pit their vehicles against each other in two speed events—a drag race and a two-and-a-half hour endurance race. In the endurance race, the teams must maneuver their vehicles around a variety of obstacles.

This year, the UW-Madison team designed and built its vehicle in the form of a recumbent tricycle, with two wheels in the front and one wheel in the back. To make their vehicle aerodynamic and reduce the drag from air, the students designed and constructed a lightweight carbon-fiber fairing—an aerodynamic outer shell—to enclose their vehicle.

In making the design, the fairing team performed aerodynamic analyses to achieve an optimal design. “Without the fairing on, we got the bike up to 25 mph. With it on, we could get up to 40 mph. So it made a big difference and those students did an awesome job,” Markus says.

The UW-Madison team’s entry in the innovation category earned praise from the judges and won third place in that event. The students developed a safety system that consisted of a crumple zone in the front of the vehicle, an airbag, and sonar detectors on the sides of the vehicle to detect objects in blind spots.

“The students designed, prototyped and tested their safety system, and the judges really liked it,” Markus says. “The innovation event is a big part of the competition, and it’s a lot of fun coming up with creative new ideas for the vehicle.”

Markus says participating on the team enhances students’ engineering education in a number of ways.

“You learn a lot about engineering design—and about how to articulate that design to others or in a report,” he says. “We also do nearly all of the fabrication ourselves in the student shop, so everyone on the team gains awesome hands-on manufacturing experience, which employers really like.”