Plymouth University goes for human powered speed challenge

Engineers planning for 2016 after initial world record attempt

A team of students, academics and technicians from Plymouth University are planning a renewed attempt on a land speed record in September 2016.

Mechanical and composites engineers and students had spent a year developing, building and testing an arm-powered vehicle ahead of the World Human Powered Speed Challenge in Battle Mountain, Nevada.

However, a pre-existing injury meant paracyclist Liz McTernan was unable to compete at full power on the Plymouth handcycle, nicknamed ‘Beluga’, although she was able to set a new women’s benchmark of 24.72mph on a conventional racing handcycle.

Instead, Lecturer in Mechanical and Marine Engineering Design Adam Kyte took to the controls of Beluga and, despite having never ridden a handcycle before, achieved a speed of 30.45mph.

Most importantly, the team managed to log data from sensors on the handcycle to analyse its performance, and work out how it can be optimised to perform even better ahead of a revised attempt next year.

Adam, who led the project alongside students Matthew Sharman (MEng Mechanical Engineering) and Oscar Whitmarsh (BEng Mechanical Engineering with Composites), said: “Testing on the best human powered vehicle racing course in the world gave us enough data to calculate what might be possible, and for an untrained and inexperienced pilot to reach more than 30mph shows what it could achieve in the future.”

The design and production of the handcycle built on the previous student dissertation and project work over the past three years, and drew on specialisms ranging from aerodynamic and structural computer simulations to precision composite manufacturing techniques. 

For more about the project, you can read the team’s blog at 

‘Beluga’ in action during the 2015 World Human Powered Speed Challenge in Battle Mountain, Nevada


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