It’s downhill all the way as Aberdeen students take to their soapbox to test out engineering skills

The engineering students from RGU with their yearly project go Soapbox racing. Picture by Jim Irvine 13-4-18

Engineering students have pitted their skills against each other – by racing handmade soapbox cars.

As part of their course, third year students on the Bachelors and Masters of Engineering courses at Robert Gordon University (RGU) were tasked with building soapbox racers.

The course culminated in 19 teams of students racing their creations, on a makeshift track assembled at the university.

It was the first event of its kind to be held at the university after moving from its usual stage at Balmedie beach. During previous races, students would be transported to the beach with their racers, which would be equipped with sails to propel them along the sand.

Students tested their vehicles against each other.

Morgan Adams, RGU lecturer and the module co-ordinator for the course, said: “The students have been working since the beginning of February on a design and build project.

“They’ve had to design and build a soapbox racer that can withstand the fairly steep and challenging course that we’ve got here at RGU.

“They’ve been through a fairly robust assessment process where they’ve gone through early design iterations, which has gone on to then selecting what they believe to be a good, robust design that’s mechanically sound.”

Alex Budge with his kart.

The students had five weeks to build the designs, and each team was given a £200 budget with which to build their racer, using recycled bikes.

The racers were then put through their paces on a 150m (492ft) course. The aim of the module was to show students how best to plan and execute a project.

Morgan said: “They’ve worked on projects before, but they haven’t necessarily had a very strict time frame, and strict budget.”

However, Morgan was keen to emphasise the importance of teamwork in the process.

He said: “Although they’ve been with the same people for three years, they haven’t necessarily spoken in three years. So they’re in groups with people they don’t know and they have that challenge where you have to get on, they’ve got to be able to work together.

“Of course you hope that they have fun, but hopefully they’ve learned that you can’t procrastinate, don’t wait until tomorrow, if you can do something today, you’ve got to get it done.”

According to Morgan, the majority of the racers were incomplete as of this week, with only two being ready when he checked on Tuesday, leaving a mad dash by competitors to get their contraption finished before race time.

The eventual winners, known as Team M, were crowned in what proved to be a tight contest, with only a few seconds separating them from teams Q and B.

Team M said: “All our hard work has really paid off, but we’ve been expecting to win from the start. We decided to keep our design for the racer quite simple and this proved to work on the day.”

The teams were due to be graded on their performance, but lecturer Morgan felt that too much effort had gone into the projects to separate the teams.

He said: “I think the fairest thing to do, would be for all the teams to get the same mark. They deserve it.

“It was very difficult for me to break down each team’s performance just on time alone, because there were so many factors.”

19 teams took part.

Among those taking part was Angus Grindlay, 21, who was the first to take to the track, but also the first to roll his racer over, and took a different angle on the collection of their bikes.

They received a sponsorship from mental health charity the Networks of Wellbeing (NoW), who gave them two bikes to use.

Angus said: “We got in touch with them looking for parts, and they sponsored us with two BMXs.”

He added that his team “struggled for time a bit at the end”.

He said: “We got it all ironed out though.”

Another participant Matthew Parker, 25, said: “It’s good to see us do something a bit more hands on.

“We’ve done practical stuff before, but this is different.

“And it’s good to have an actual event to build up to.”

Matthew’s teammate Oliver Lusby, 22, said: “It shows the difference from the planning stage to when you actually build it.

“Ours looks totally different to what we wanted at the start.

“We originally intended our roll bar to be much bigger but there were some problems with the welding.”

Some of the students showed off their creative flair with the design of their racers.

Innis Taylor, 22, and his team named their racer Chilli Con Carnage, decorating it in the style of the Jamaican Bobsled team from the film Cool Runnings.

Innis said: “It’s been pretty mental. It’s been really hard getting all the welding done and trying to get the whole team together while keeping up with other work has been pretty hard.”

Meanwhile, another team chose a superhero theme, with a stars and stripes painted racer driven by Captain America.

Morgan spoke of plans already being in place to hold the event again next year, continuing it on campus.

He said: “I’m keen to have a repeat next year, and now that I know how this one ran, I know the things that maybe didn’t work out as well.

“I’ll be able to plan it a bit better, get things in motion a bit sooner and to be able to advertise it so that non-engineering students can come along too.”