Balloon car designer Kim Aaron writes:
- Design approach taken – explain how it worked.
The Lego car used the balloons as a twisted elastic band geared to the back
axle. It seemed that it would be easier to couple the stored elastic
energy to the wheels this way rather than trying to use a piston.
Jet-propulsion was never a serious consideration – it’s sort of an
- Unique or clever features embodied
The toughest part was fastening the ends of the balloons to the vehicle. I
basically inserted a plastic nut INSIDE the balloon and screwed it onto a
plastic threaded rod on the outside of the balloon. Then I had to twist
the balloon the right way so the torque would tend to tighten rather than
loosen the nut.
- Materials of construction (mention unique parts you used or fabricated)
- Reasons behind any significant design choices you had to make
I chose to use Lego Technic since it already has many mechanical components
such as gears, axles, wheels. The alignment is important so your car
doesn’t swerve off the track. The mechanical tolerance on Lego parts is
very good. The modularity of Lego meant I could fabricate rapidly, and I
could modify the design rapidly.
- Lessons learned (what you’d do differently next time)
I found it was very important to put talcum powder both inside the balloon
and on the outside. If I didn’t do this, the twisted balloon would sort of
weld to itself and would not unwind as far.
It is very important to do a lot of testing. I really left it too late to
realize I had a problem with attaching the balloons. The first thing I
tried worked really well … until I tried to do it again on another set of
balloons. Then it failed miserably. I went through about six different
approaches until I found something reasonable. Even then, the balloon
broke on race day the first time I wound it. So I had to install a new
engine and try again.
- Anything else you’d like to add
The best I did in testing on horizontal smooth concrete was close to 50
feet. Going uphill on race day, and perhaps underwinding a bit so as not
to blow my second engine, I barely beat 20 feet. My hat is off to those
vehicles that went 70-100+ feet. They had some real engineering in them.
Thanks Paul for a neat activity.