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Ohio University engineering students host, compete, place at Human Powered Vehicle Challenge

Pete Shooner | May 19, 2016
HPVC team photo
Photos by Ashley Stottlemyer

Ohio University engineering students host, compete, place at Human Powered Vehicle Challenge

Pete Shooner | May 19, 2016

Photos by Ashley Stottlemyer

Braving the rain, wind and even hail, hundreds of mechanical engineering students from around the world put their recumbent vehicle designs – and their bodies – to the test in Athens, Ohio, this weekend during the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ (ASME) 2016 Human Powered Vehicle Challenge (HPVC) East competition, hosted by Ohio University’s Russ College of Engineering and Technology.

The annual contest drew more than 35 teams from across the country and as far away as Colombia to pit their two-, three- and four-wheeled human powered vehicles against each other in design and safety tests, drag races, and a two-and-a-half-hour endurance race. OHIO finished third overall, with third place in both the women’s drag and team endurance races.

While wind-burned faces filled with nervous smiles packed the banquet hall Sunday evening to hear the final results, the weekend’s events made it clear the competition was about much more than speed. And for OHIO students, who in only their second year participating played the dual role of host and competitor, this year’s HPVC was a chance to put all they had on the line.

Check out our full photo album from the 2016 HPVC East competition on our Facebook page.

The rise of El Gato 2.0

Although coming as no surprise to the Russ College students who rode OHIO’s “El Gato 2.0,” the team’s strong finish was nonetheless remarkable, according to Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Jay Wilhelm, the team’s faculty advisor.

“Some of the schools who win every year, they’ve been doing this for 20 years. For someone like OHIO to come in and take third is a big deal,” Wilhelm said. “They didn’t break, and they were fast. Those are the two things you have to do to win. The third one is that you have to be light, and they’ll get that next year.”

El Gato 2.0’s heavier three-wheeled design wasn’t expected to match some of the lighter two-wheeled models in terms of pure speed, which juniors Rachel Schack and Jane Oberhauser – OHIO’s pilots for the women’s drag race – said only enhanced their accomplishment.

“For our design, I think we did really great,” Oberhauser said. “Ours wasn’t exactly built for the drag race – it was sturdier and heavier than the others.”

Design reports, and especially safety inspections, were emphasized by the judges this year, which helped in part boost OHIO to third place overall.

“I really appreciated how seriously the judges took the safety inspection and just making sure that everything was consistent in terms of judging, because I think that increases the level of competition and the reputation of this event,” Schack said.

The future of transportation

The HPVC’s two main events – the drag race and the endurance race – stand in stark contrast to one another, with the endurance race’s winding course, complete with rumble strips, inclines, and “grocery” pick up, presenting a much different challenge than the drag race’s emphasis on pure speed.

According to HPVC East Director Jamie Waters, introducing common obstacles and tasks to the endurance race reflected ASME’s conscious decision to focus the competition on delivering practical vehicles that can function in real-world environments.

“Back when we started, it was all speed, speed, speed, speed, and there was this little section over here that wasn’t well attended called ‘utility,’ which was the only section that had a vehicle that could do anything but go fast,” Waters explained. “Then, we had a vision of what these vehicles could do. Sure, they could go fast, but they could also go over rumble strips, stop at a stop sign and then take off without assistance, go around corners and pick up groceries. We wanted to get students to design things that would be usable outside of the competition.”

Today, the HPVC provides an opportunity for students to demonstrate sound engineering design principles by developing sustainable and practical transportation alternatives. Human-powered transport is often the only type available in underdeveloped or inaccessible parts of the world, and according to Waters, it can be an increasingly viable form of sustainable transportation.

“When you think about green energy and reducing the amount of carbon in the air, a bicycle’s power is just your exertion of energy – we’re not using any fuel source or batteries,” Waters said. “So human power really is the greenest power that we have.”

OHIO’s dual role

As teams designed, built and tested their vehicles in the months leading up to competition, the Russ College team found themselves twice as busy preparing to welcome more than 350 guests to OHIO’s campus.

By all accounts, the students rose to the challenge.

“We set out to raise the bar for hosting,” OHIO alumnus and event organizer Cody Petitt, MSME ’16, said. “We wanted to have a good venue, highlight a campus that’s unique and very gracious, and just try to show off what we have here, and I think we did a really good job of that.”

Free of logistical headaches, guests were able to enjoy themselves and focus on the competition, and most, including Missouri S&T’s Aaron Wiseman, found Friday’s “meet and greet” to be a valuable addition to the schedule.

“The meet and greet was great. I got to see a lot of other designs and talk to the other teams,” said Wiseman, who was Missouri S&T’s chief engineer. “I think I ended up standing by our vehicle at one point and just talked about design for an hour straight.”

OHIO co-captain and sophomore Matt McKenzie, who helped plan the event in addition to leading the competition team, said he’s very proud of his fellow Russ College students for excelling as both hosts and competitors.

“All of the events went very smoothly, despite the weather, for everyone from competitors to judges,” he said. “The countless months of planning that Cody and I had put into the event with the help of many others, including the Russ College, the City of Athens and many other entities, to ensure the event was a success, really showed in the seamless execution of the competition.”

For ASME’s Waters, this year’s event may become the new benchmark for future HPVC competitions.

“I’ve been around this event in one way or another since 2005. Over the years, we’ve held one event as the standard that we’ve measured everybody to, and until this year, nobody’s met that standard,” Waters said. “I think OHIO has either met or exceeded that standard. The host has been great, everything has been on time and anything we’ve needed we’ve gotten done.”

The final results for all categories and events are below:

Men's drag race:

1: Rose-Hullman

2: Akron

3: Missouri S&T


Women's drag race:

1: Akron

2: Rose-Hullman

3: Ohio University


Endurance race:

1: Akron

2: Missouri S&T

3: Ohio University



1: Rose-Hullman

2: Ohio Northern

3: University of Toronto



1: Akron

2: Ohio Northern

3: Rose-Hullman



1: Akron

2: Rose-Hullman

3: Ohio University