High-speed and/or fuel efficient car design is a complicated and difficult job. It requires engineers and scientists, who are experts in their particular areas of study and practice. These professionals must balance many factors when designing cars, such as a car’s aerodynamics, its weight, its cost, its ability to handle corners, its acceleration and so on. This takes an enormous amount of planning, calculation, and designing prototypes to come up with a successful car design.

Educational outcomes

  • Students will design and prototype, test, and iterate on a device they’ve created to solve a real-world problem.

STEAM INTEGRATION

For this design challenge, students will analyze data from their prototype cars to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success (MS-ETS1-3). Students will develop a prototype car to generate data for iterative testing and modify the prototype such that an optimal design can be achieved(MS-ETS1-4).

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Unit Materials

This unit can be completed using RAFT’s Makerspace-in-a-box kit 
or a variety of reusable materials such as:

  • Cardboard or equivalent
  • Construction paper
  • Straws
  • Pencils
  • Duct and/or masking tape
  • Scissors
  • Measuring Tape, 15-25ft.
  • Wind tunnel (built out of cardboard or anything that can help direct air in a single direction)
  • Car track (built out of cardboard or other flat surfaces)
  • Tennis balls (1 per person or group)
  • High-powered fan
  • Pre-made car-base (Popsicle sticks, bottle caps, or similar materials)
  • Passenger (coin, Jello, small paper cup filled with water)
  • An accessible wall.

Design Thinking Overview

Our design thinking units have five phases based on the d.school’s model. Each phase can be repeated to allow students to re-work and iterate while developing deeper understanding of the core concepts. These are the five phases of the design thinking model:

EMPATHIZE: Work to fully understand the experience of the user for whom you are designing.  Do this through observation, interaction, and immersing yourself in their experiences.

DEFINE: Process and synthesize the findings from your empathy work in order to form a user point of view that you will address with your design.

IDEATE: Explore a wide variety of possible solutions through generating a large quantity of diverse possible solutions, allowing you to step beyond the obvious and explore a range of ideas.

PROTOTYPE: Transform your ideas into a physical form so that you can experience and interact with them and, in the process, learn and develop more empathy.

TEST: Try out high-resolution products and use observations and feedback to refine prototypes, learn more about the user, and refine your original point of view.

The Design Thinking Process | ReDesigning Theater. (n.d.). Retrieved April 2, 2016, from http://dschool.stanford.edu/redesigningtheater/the-design-thinking-process/

STEAM Integrated Standards

MS-ETS1-3: Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success.

MS-ETS1-4: Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved.

Suggestions for pacing and differentiation

Suggest lessons that could be dropped or suggestions for 40 minute stand alone versions of lessons, etc.

Lesson Overview

Students design a miniature vehicle capable of transporting a tennis ball. The vehicle will gain momentum by following a declining slope, and then must travel a minimum predetermined distance (we’ve chosen 15 feet, but you can pick any distance) against high head on winds. They will troubleshoot and refine their designs based on observations obtained by conducting functional tests until the vehicle rolls a specified distance.

Essential questions: Can you design a rolling vehicle from simple materials that can travel 15 feet carrying a tennis ball fully enclosed within it.

Essential Questions:

  • Can you design a rolling vehicle from simple materials that can travel 15 feet carrying a tennis ball fully enclosed within it.

LESSON PROCEDURE:

  • Teacher should create bases for cars on his/her own time or have students create car bases in a separate lesson.
  • Sloped track and wind tunnel need to be constructed ahead of activity.

Student Direction

Empathy

You and your team of engineers are tasked with building a supercar that rivals the fastest production cars in the world. Your specific job is to find a car body design that creates the least amount of aerodynamic drag. All cars need cabins to hold passengers. In your design tests, a tennis ball will represent the approximate size of the passenger cabin required in the car. You’ll need to build the car body around the tennis ball. To test your designs, you’ll send your model down a steep decline to gain speed. At the end of the decline the car will enter a wind tunnel. The car will then need to travel a minimum of 15 feet against strong winds within the wind tunnel.

Define

As homework the night before, have students research aerodynamic cars and planes.

Ideate, Prototype, Test

Students will build a prototype vehicle using the materials available to them. They will then test their prototype out on the sloped decline and the wind tunnel. After testing their prototype, they will record their observations in their Maker Journal and make modifications to the car body to improve its aerodynamics. They’ll continue to test, record observations, and modify their car body several times until it is capable of traveling 15 feet.

T: “I’d like you to build a car body using the materials available to you around the tennis ball. Once you’ve done so, go ahead and try the car in the wind tunnel. Once you’ve tested it, go back to your desk and write or draw your thoughts on your design. For example, write about what you liked and didn’t like about your design. Next you’ll make modifications to your car body  so it goes further in the wind tunnel?”

Test Your Design:

  • Does the vehicle roll?
  • Does it have structural integrity (not fall apart upon use)?
  • Will it roll without constant adjustments to the wheels after each use?
  • Does the vehicle stop 20 feet away from starting point?  What are the factors affecting its ability to achieve the distance or not overshoot the distance?

Reflection

Think about and discuss the following questions with the design team. Record your thoughts in your Maker Journal:

  1. Is the vehicle design the best solution?  Why or why not?
  2. What could be done differently in future design attempts?
  3. What specifically could be changed or added to make it better?
  4. Describe any challenges with following the design process and how they were overcome by the team.

Lesson Materials

Building Materials

  • Cardboard or equivalent
  • Construction paper
  • Straws
  • Pencils
  • Duct and/or masking tape
  • Scissors
  • Measuring Tape, 15-25ft.
  • Wind tunnel (built out of cardboard or anything that can help direct air in a single direction)
  • Car track (built out of cardboard or other flat surfaces)
  • Tennis balls (1 per person or group)
  • High-powered fan
  • Pre-made car-base (Popsicle sticks, bottle caps, or similar materials)

Materials for Permutations

  • Passenger (coin, Jello, small paper cup filled with water)
  • An accessible wall.

Maker Journal Pages

dl-student

Learning Targets

  • Students are able to prototype and iterate on a car design to improve its aerodynamics, allowing the car to move further along the ground with the same amount of energy.

Instead of testing the aerodynamics of the car, you can test the crash safety of the car. Have students create junk cars using the materials outlined in the main activity above. Indicate to the students that instead of trying to make the car go as far as possible, the cars need to hit the wall at speed, but the car occupants need to remain inside the car. The junk cars should be designed so that the passenger sits on top of the car roof, or some other flat part of the car, and is not enclosed or tied down.

Encourage students to test and iterate on their car design (don’t use a cup of water as a passenger if your materials are not waterproof). Ideally students will have enough time to iterate twice after creating their initial design. As students test and iterate on their designs, have them make notes in their maker journal.

Set up the declining ramp so that the end of the ramp is 1 to 2 feet away from a classroom wall. Place the passenger on the car. Passengers can be any object that will not move if the car accelerates or decelerates gently, but will move if the car accelerates or decelerates sharply. Some potential objects that might represent good passengers include: cubes of Jello, a coin, a small paper cup filled with water, etc.

To succeed, students need their car to impact the wall without moving the passenger off the car. Students can experiment with various types of materials and methods to reduce the suddenness of impact on the car. Students may want to examine images of real car wall impact tests for ideas. They may notice modern cars have crumple zones, which they could replicate by creating a bumper on the front of their car made of paper.

Test Your Design:

  • Does the vehicle roll?
  • Does it have structural integrity (not fall apart upon use)?
  • Will it roll without constant adjustments to the wheels after each use?
  • Does the vehicle keep the passenger onboard when it hits the wall?
  • Is the vehicle able to be reused after a crash (it doesn’t have to be).

Lesson Materials

Other

In addition to the materials found in the main lesson:

  • Passenger (coin, Jello, small paper cup filled with water)
  • An accessible wall.

External Resources

Maker Journal Pages

dl-student

Learning Targets

  • Students are able to prototype and iterate on a car design to improve its ability to protect passengers from abrupt stops.