|Entry #||Driver Name||Car Name||Mass
|11||44||Hong Yuan||Mars Roller||92||11.5||12||3.75||21.08||15.17||Most Unusual|
Balloon car designer Hong Yuan writes:
The idea is simple. The balloons are used as a rubber band. When the rubber band is stretched and twisted, the untwisting force rolls a two-liter soda bottle, hence, the name "Mars Roller".
I made two holes on the soda bottle, one at the center of the bottom and one at the center of the cap. One end of the balloon band was secured to the bottom of the bottle; the other end came out of the cap and was fixed on a chopstick. After the balloon band is wound up, lay the bottle on the ground, the chopstick is "stuck", the untwisting force can only roll the bottle, which then moves forward.
To create appropriate attraction on the cement runway, yet not to increase the mass of the vehicle dramatically, I wrapped three rubber bands around the bottle.
To "steer" the vehicle, one end of the chopstick was wired with a pair of wheels. The bottle rolled with stability in a straight line.
A two-liter soda bottle (found in a trash can), a chopstick, a pair of wheels taken apart from a toy car that costs $2.90, three rubber bands, paperclip, wire, superglue, string.
I tried slicing the balloons to make an elastic rubber band, but it did not seem to provide as much force as with the balloon intact. I first superglued the bottoms of the two balloons, then wreathed the connection with string. I used a paperclip to secure one end of the balloon band, and stuck the other straightened end of the paperclip in a third tiny hole on the bottle near the center hole so that that end of the balloon band became one with the bottle.
Having the two wheels in front was crucial to steering the vehicle, as I soon learned. I initially had the chopstick trailing the car (one end of it touched the ground); and I thought I could adjust the position of the rubber bands around the bottle to make it go straight. That simply did not work; the car curved with the chopstick lagging behind. When the twisted balloon band releases energy, the untwisting force exerts on the bottom of the bottle, making it roll faster than the top of the bottle. It could go no more than 10 feet distance although its actual path was longer. I thought I might be stuck with my design because there was no time left to make any improvements.
At about 10:30pm of the night before the contest, I called Target in Pasadena and was told it would be open till 11:00pm. I immediately drove there and bought a toy car for $2.90. I broke the car apart and wired the pair of wheels to the chopstick. I then made a little flag with NASA and JPL logos and placed it on the other end of the chopstick. My Mars Roller was ready to roll. It rolled 20 feet STRAIGHT, with ease, on a trial run at 2:30am on the day of the contest.
Use ball bearings on the wheels and the loose connection between the bottle and the chopstick. The latter is tricky, but I have given it some thought and have some ideas.
I entered the contest at the last minute of the deadline (3 days before the contest) and worked two nights to fabricate my entry. Unlike my other software projects, this project was completed on schedule (10 hours) and within budget (< $4.00).
With Glenn Beardsley of Uncle Milton Industries and Steve Pennington of the Mattel Corporation being the judges, my Mars Roller, the 8th in running distance, won the "Most Unusual Design Award" (I call it the "Most Distinctive Design"). I became a "celebrity" on The Pasadena Star News published on Saturday, December 1998 that had a large picture of me winding up my Mars Roller getting ready for the race. That was most rewarding for a software engineer who had not done a "hardware" project like this for a long time. I have added a copy of the video tape recording of the contest to my video collection. Mars Roller, along with the nicely framed Award Certificate, is now on display in my office for free viewing.
Thanks to Paul MacNeal who came up with the idea and organized the event and to all those who made the event such a success. It was a lot of fun and a great way to end the year 1998.