Box-car challenge

24th June 2005 at 01:00
Fostering a competitive spirit could be the winning formula for a four-by-four design, reports David Bocking

The task: design and build a radio-controlled 4x4 vehicle with tilt detection and automatic headlights, capable of negotiating a simulated off-road course with hills, water and sand.

The solution? "A cardboard box," says Lee Brooke, head of design and technology at Castleford High School, Leeds. His slightly creased recyclable box (180mm by 180mm by 320mm) is the answer to one of the major obstacles facing students taking part in the 4x4 In Schools Technology Challenge.

"The big problem is fitting everything into a small area, so we made sure everything would fit into that box," he says. "And I'd say you should plan the whole vehicle before starting on the smaller parts."

Lee has worked with four Year 10 students on the project over the past seven months, as Castleford is one of eight pilot schools taking part in the Challenge, to be launched nationally on July 1. The competition is backed by Land Rover, the Institute of Electrical Engineers and Denford Limited - the company behind the well-established F1 Team In Schools Challenge. This new challenge aims to provide a real-world problem for 15 and 16-year-olds, which can also contribute much of the coursework for the GCSE in engineering.

"It's raised the pupils' understanding of electronics and motor vehicle design, and they've learned about industrial processes," says Paul Cooper, DT teacher at Lawrence Sheriff School in Rugby, another of the pilot schools. "But, most importantly, they've learned about project management.

You can't just throw this project together, you've got to allocate a prolonged period of time, and there's a lot of planning to be done."

Lee Brooke estimates that 60 hours of work will be needed to complete the vehicle, and at Castleford, where the long-term project has been run as an after-school option, pupils have had to be highly committed. They started with research on radio-controlled vehicles, and were able to secure the donation of a number of surplus vehicles from a shop, which were then stripped down as "visual aids", says Lee.

The criteria for the challenge is exacting: apart from the size constraints and the requirement for sophisticated electronics, vehicles must be able to negotiate a 45 degree longitudinal slope and a 30 degree lateral slope.

"It gives students a better idea of what manufacturing is about when you have a design brief that's real, rather than one contrived for a lesson," says Castleford's DT technician, Richard Tasker. "They learn how things have to be designed and manufactured in a certain order, they learn how to work to very close tolerances of less than a millimetre, and how to work to cost and size constraints. It teaches them to look at things rather than taking them for granted."

Three-quarters of the Castleford team are female, and team leader Faye Rowett (15) is very proud of her work on the vehicle, which, when finished, she says, will be pink with a silver lightning design.

"It certainly has been a challenge," she says. "We realised early on about the deadlines, and how important it is to motivate everyone and nudge them on in the right direction. But the fact that it's a competition helps to spur people on."

Lee Brooke's advice to schools taking up the challenge is to start with two or three teams in competition with each other. A source of radio-controlled cars is useful, along with good 3D modelling software and a helpful local college with facilities to output the designs. (Modelling software is available through the CADCAM initiative run by the Design and Technology Association). And don't forget the cardboard box.

l 4x4 In Schools Technology Challenge Tel: 01484 728000 Email: info@4x4inschools.

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