5th year engineering student Diana Nelson doing figure-eights for her team at the Scooter Olympics. Source – Kan Li for the Florida Alligator.
Normally, Dr. Peter Ifju is content with being a highly esteemed professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Florida. Yet, his academic specialty is in the field of Experimental Mechanics, which involves constantly searching for new ways to design things and improve them.
This interest is what gives him some sympathies and common ground with the innovative world of scooter making and riding. Thus, on the afternoon of September 29, 2014, instead of sitting down to another lecture, 120 engineering students participated in the University of Florida’s first Electric Scooter Olympics.
How it went down
6 person teams were formed, for a total of 20 student teams and one team of teaching assistants. Each team had an electric scooter they had been building as part of their class, and competed in an uphill race, a downhill race, and a figure-8 event. In spite of worries the whole thing might be postponed because the rain, students showed up to their morning classes in helmets, some after a weekend of practicing their figure 8s, showing a lot of eager anticipation.
Finally, the rain stopped just as the festivities began at 4:10. Competitors were given one opportunity to push off the ground to start, but then took a two second penalty for each misstep.
Although some batteries were wearing down by the end of the hour-long event, causing the scooters to skid, every team was able to complete all events successfully. Ultimately, the six seniors in Team 20 won the overall competition, after wining the uphill race and finishing second in the figure-8 competition.
Ifju noted that the “younger and hungrier” senior students “utterly humiliated” the older graduate students, even if the later had put effort into decorating their scooter pop-pops, foam horns, and an alligator shaped mat. The victors in Team 20 won the grand prize of a box of candy and a trophy made from tire-pressure gauges. Hanna Helms, writing for UF’s campus newspaper The Independent Florida Alligator notes, “No students or scooters were injured at the event,” making it an successful event that hopefully will be repeated with the next class.
Trust me, it was for school
The Scooter Olympics was the culmination of an assignment in Dr. Ifju’s capstone mechanical design class, in which the students examined, took apart, and rebuilt a model E300 Razor Electric Scooter, which is one of the fastest scooters Razor makes, reaching speeds up to 15 miles an hour. By putting the scooters they had been building into practice, the Olympics help students better appreciate the scooter’s design, mechanics, and evaluate its performance in a way that will help them with their own design projects. 22-year-old mechanical engineering student Daniella Soyos participated, and found the event a really helpful way to apply and appreciate her studies, saying, “We’re breaking down something seen in real-life applications.”
The students also used their knowledge of physics to their advantage. For example, they used their lightest team member to race uphill, and their heaviest to go downhill, recognizing that the difference in mass would have advantages going with or against gravity.
By riding a scooter, as you think through outfitting your scooter for maximum performance, think about landscapes and places to ride that will work the best, and altering your technique for a trick in a particular context, you are putting principles of science into practice without even realizing it. These engineering students prove there is a lot more to scooter riding then meets the eye, and their enthusiasm and expertise is going to bring a lot to the sport.