Kinetic Sculpture Race

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This project was the logical continuation of the Crazy Bike Fab project. Drawing on inspiration from existing kinetic sculpture races, our only requirements are that entries are (1) made by the contestants, and (2) don’t tear up the soccer field that we hold the race on. I’ve so far used the first requirement to keep motorized entries out of the race, but homemade motors are allowed. To disabuse potential entrants of the idea that it’s a race for speed, points are awarded thusly:

Creativity – 20 points
Completing the course – 20 points
Sheer size and audacity – 15 points
Engineering chops – 15 points
Style and mojo – 15 points
Costumes and hair – 15 points

Although in practice no point system is used. Named after Riverdale’s Lindenbaum Arts Building, the race is called the Lindy 500. True glory comes from having your name permanently engraved on the Lindy 500 Victory Cup.


The Lindy 500 Victory Cup

Materials and tools:

Basic metal shop (mig welder, chopsaw, drill press with hole saws, disc grinders)
Basic wood shop
Junk bikes, exercise machines, shopping carts, you name it
Scrap wood and paint
10″ pneumatic caster wheels
are handy
A store of bike parts
1″ square steel tubing, 16 ga. and 14 ga.

The idea is to create sort of a Burning Man atmosphere without the fire or nudity. We hold the race on the last day of school at lunchtime. Students, staff, and faculty are all welcome to enter, although so far we’ve had just one faculty and no staff entries due to people having jobs. Students, however, get tremendously fired up for the event. Some begin work in the winter on their own, while others start work in participating art and science classes and after-school clubs. Participants range from 5th to 12th grade.

If this sounds like too much to start with, it might make sense to start with something more constrained, like the Crazy Bike Fab project.

To drum up contestants I visit each grade meeting and show a few slides of previous races (we’ve had two so far) and invite students to come to the maker lab with or without ideas to see what’s possible. I also evangelize among teachers. In a school with a lot of academic pressure like Riverdale, devoting time to designing and building a giant mobile hot dog, for instance, can help create a nice balance. Some students have told me that their time on this project was some of their most memorable in high school.

Learning goals

As with the Crazy Bike Fab project, lots of skills are involved. Depending on the project, students learn to weld, work with steel, work with wood, repair bikes, use a laser cutter, sew, use CAD, use the Shop-Bot, etc.  They also practice real design – brainstorming, planning, sketching, prototyping, testing, failing, and iterating. Nearly all entrants run into obstacles that require rethinking and redoing at least parts of their projects. The most important things they learn, in my opinion, are (1) patience, and (2) that with patience and determination one can accomplish great, improbable things, like a giant pedal-powered high-top sneaker.



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