Things like the old miniature train track and surrounding village in the old Museum of Science and Industry in Exposition Park, and, much later in life, the shadow boxes of Joseph Cornell, have been for me examples of small things well done, impressive and with emotional impact.
By Garrett Rowlan
And so I was prepared to like Formula E (for Elastic) World Competition for miniature cars, held on the campus of Pasadena ArtCenter College of Design on August 10. I was not disappointed. The principle of a small, good thing was in evidence during the competition that featured miniature cars competing in three racing categories: uphill, figure 8, and drag racing, in addition to a build and design competition.
To call these creations miniature is almost a pejorative, considering that everything about these miniature cars from the design, the forging (or 3D printing) of parts, and the means of propulsion involved painstaking effort and ingenuity to build these Lilliputian vehicles of speed, style, and maneuverability.
Nor was there a hint of parochialism, for in addition to team coming from the ArtCenter, PCC, and even from Temple City High School, teams from the Inner Mongolia University of Technology and the Beijing University of Technology also competed. This is a competition that has been going on for a decade, and its scope and intensity has widened. Since 2012 it has become an international competition.
What I liked was that each of the twenty teams (16 student, 4 pro)—who participated in elimination heats from the morning until late in the afternoon, with the final competition around 5:30—started with the same restriction, 16 feet of custom-made rubber band (engineered, surely, for maximum thrust while unraveling) all wound around a central crankshaft—or, in the case of some innovators, two eight-foot strands to drive two crankshafts. A “driver” holding a servo steered the car, though some track-side onlookers had to step nimbly aside as the remote-guided vehicles wanted to improvise their own route.
As such, the races were races against time, obstacles, and the inevitable entropy of the unwinding rubber band. Answers to how they approached that challenge were explained as each team had a spot under the square-shaped awning that adjoined the ad hoc “track.” Each team was happy to answer my questions, and the youthful eagerness and comfort with technology was daunting, inspiring, and even intimidating.
The results were:
- Hillclimb Race: Ma-Ying (Inner Mongolia University of Technology)
- Sculpture Garden Flats: Sky Net (Pasadena City College)
- Ash Tray Drag Race: Ma-Ying (Inner Mongolia University of Technology)
- Eckle’s Design Award FASTish (ArtCenter Grad ID)
- Best in Show: Team FASTish (ArtCenter Grad)
- Sinclair Hillclimb Race: Monster 3.0
- Sculpture Garden Flats: Honda (new formula E Pro record.)
- Ash Tray Drag Race: Monster 3.0
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