BTN LiveBIG: Nebraska competition serves up a movable feast

BTN LiveBIG: Nebraska competition serves up a movable feast

It’s an all-out burn down the straightaway. University of Nebraska-Lincoln engineering students pit vehicle vs. vehicle, vying for glory on a length of track that’s seen vanquished competitors literally fall to pieces.

Whose design will reign supreme? Whose will go the extra “mile”? Which car will emerge victorious in the epic battle of hot-rod potato vs. pickle-mobile?

Nebraska_IECC4“The Incredible, Edible Car Competition (IECC) has been run for 11 years,” said Dr. Mark Riley, head of the Biological Systems Engineering department, which oversees the event along with the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. “It was conceived as an exercise for our Introduction to Engineering course for agricultural engineers and biological systems engineers.”

The competition, which was held earlier this month, features teams of four to five students. Each of those teams is tasked with designing vehicles that will not only go the distance, but also fill bellies. In fact, one of the criteria upon which the teams are judged is how quickly they can eat the car after its race is run.

“Some teams used summer sausage as the body, which makes for a good car, but a tough eat,” Riley explained. “A year ago, we had one team use oranges as wheels of their car, but when they were reminded of the [eating] requirement, they quickly peeled the oranges before the performance test. Not surprisingly, peeled oranges are not a good wheel component.”

Nebraska_IECC3Prior to the main event, the teams display their vehicles and design schematics for judging by faculty, staff, students and partners of the BSE department.

“The poster includes information on their team, the name they have given their car, a parts list (including calories) and data from prototype testing,” Riley said. “The [teams] are evaluated on caloric content, creativity in design [and] performance, along with time required to eat. Awards are presented to students for the most creative design, best performance, best poster and three winners for the overall competition.”

The competition is but one part of UNL’s larger Engineering Day, which serves as both an entrée to the world of engineering for perspective students at the high school and college level, and a chance for the university to showcase its work in the field. Senior engineering students are afforded an opportunity to exhibit projects, with subjects ranging from instrumentation to computational modeling. In addition, a career-fair component allows students to connect with regional employers in the field.

“It’s a fun activity,” Riley said. “[The competition] gives our students the chance to show their design skills, and gives them an opportunity to talk with alumni and practicing engineers working in the real world.”

And, in case you were wondering who took top prize at this year’s IECC, the pickle-mobile won by a gherkin.

By John Tolley

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