June 16, 2012, 7:20 AM — Remember the Chibikart, the electric go-kart that goes up to 20MPH that we covered a few weeks back? Its creator Charles Guan has designed a new version, known as the "Democratic People's Republic of Chibikart", that excludes parts (hand-wound motors, factory-special batteries) and building techniques (CNC milling and lathe-work) that are hard to obtain outside a university or research setting. Even better: he posted step by step instructions so you can make your own.
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Charles's goal was to design and document a kart that any dedicated person could build using easily-purchased, modern hardware-store parts and a reasonable personal shop, along with a little help from services like Big Blue Saw or Shapeways. These companies provide an impressive array of fabrication services to anyone with a credit card and a CAD file at a reasonable price. (Oh, and Charles has posted all of his CAD files for free online.)
Charles explains his motivations in a pre-build rant: "I support the methodology of getting up and building something as an effective way to learn engineering." His hope is that the instructions, born out of a hands-on course he taught, will provide anyone who's interested with the information and understanding they need to get started.
Charles finds what working with a human-sized system provides people with a better intuitive understanding of common mechanical engineering concepts than does working with the small-scale toy systems commonly used in undergraduate mechanical engineering courses. "The numbers are in a range which make more sense to think about--you understand more what 10 pounds-force is like than 0.1 pounds-force[...] You can't bend 1/2" aluminum vehicle frame plates to suit your misaligned bearings, but 1/32" sheet metal robot frames just don't illustrate that well."
Despite this, the DPR Chibikart is not intended specifically as a teaching tool. Charles's goal is for it to be first and foremost a fun project, more difficult and more interesting than building something out of 2-by-4s from Home Depot--an "exploration of the hidden underbelly of engineering."
Thanks to this, you too can, with a little work, tool around like a maniac on your own electric go-kart. (You'll also need about USD $1000 if you purchase everything new.)
Speaking of the "hidden underbelly of engineering"--maybe next we can get a motorized rollerblades how-to?
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