Kinetic Sculpture Vehicle "Unwheeldy"


In January of 2005, I began construction of a vehicle to enter into the World Championship Kinetic Sculpture Race from Arcata California to the nearby town of Ferndale. The race is held every Memorial Day, near the end of May.

The concept for the vehicle was to have giant wheels, but only two of them, and side-by-side. In that configuration, the pilots can hang below an axle connecting the wheels, and thus not need to balance. With two wheels, the vehicle could have two pilots and each could pedal one of the wheels. That way steering could be accomplished simply by one pilot pedalling faster than the other. With only two wheels, the vehicle would roll like a can on its side with an off-center weight in it. The danger of course is that on a very steep slope the off-center weight might not be enough to keep the whole thing from rolling down the hill. This seemed like a perfect challenge for me: build something where the design is inherently dangerous, but do it well enough to stay safe.

Since I worked out that initial design in January 2005, I was able to build it with the help of a bunch of friends, race it in Arcata in May (earning an Honorable Mention for Engineering), and race it again in Ventura in September (this time winning First Place in Engineering and Spectator Favorite!). That first race from Arcata to Ferndale is really tough, and we would not have been able finish if we hadn't towed it most of the way behind Matt's truck. After the race we made a bunch of improvements to the vehicle, and those coupled with the fact that the Ventura race is only about 4 miles compared to Arcata's 42 enabled us to actually finish and even win a nice award.

Overall, we worked really hard, learned a lot, and had a lot of fun. Of course I have plans to improve it for another try at the Arcata to Ferndale race. Check back this summer!

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Arcata race photos and writeup, courtesy of Tom Jones