The Speeding Car Design Challenge: Use the Real World to Stimulate and Promote Problem Solving in Your Classroom

By Roman, Harry T. | The Technology Teacher, December 2008 | Go to article overview

The Speeding Car Design Challenge: Use the Real World to Stimulate and Promote Problem Solving in Your Classroom


Roman, Harry T., The Technology Teacher


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All too often, we read about high-speed police chases in pursuit of stolen cars that result in death and injury to people and innocent bystanders. Isn't there another way to accomplish the apprehension of the thieves that does not put people at such great risk?

That is exactly what this design challenge is about: using technology to remotely shut down speeding cars so they cannot generate high-speed chases in the first place, and also to allow police to capture them.

Understanding the Problem

Thieves who steal cars want to get away as quickly as possible, but in that escape process they become detected, and a police chase ensues. How might police be able to disable the car without getting involved in a protracted chase through city streets?

Certainly inventors have been thinking about this problem, so a look at the technical literature and perhaps an Internet patent search may be an appropriate way to start this design challenge. What techniques do the inventors and companies that might be involved seem to favor?

What first ideas might be generated by your students? Let's try a list to get the creativity flowing. We'll assume the police have a way to somehow "point at the car" or perhaps access the car through a computer to:

* Shut off the electrical system to the engine.

* Interrupt the flow of fuel to the engine.

* Blow out the tires.

* Lock the wheels or brakes on the car.

This is pretty standard stuff when it comes to stopping the car--very traditionally envisioned things based on our rudimentary knowledge of how cars work. But how might they actually accomplish this piece of technological magic? Can your students brainstorm ideas and systems that might make this possible?

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There have been reports of devices that, when fired at a speeding car by police, hit the car and disable it. This is a pretty dynamic solution, though subject to misses and difficulties getting a clear line of sight to a speeding vehicle in an urban environment. Are there more subtle or sophisticated ways to foil a car theft... maybe ones that use imagination, a little high tech, and some computer-age software?

Envisioning a Solution

Sometimes it is helpful to envision how one can accomplish a task if everything could be built into a product from the beginning, with total control over the design process achieved from the outset. Once this works, then retrofit systems could be made for the population of products already out there. The same is true for cars. How would your students equip a car today with systems that prevent, thwart, or minimize stolen car chases?

With a new car it is possible to make it very difficult to steal the car in the first place. How do you make the car smart enough to know someone is fooling around with it or has stolen it? How about some sample ideas to jumpstart student thinking:

* The driver wears or has on his person a microchip recognized by the car, allowing him or her to drive it without question.

* Locate all the ignition-related electrical wiring in a safe enclosure inside the engine compartment and lock the hood down, making access difficult to anyone other than the owner.

* A car being stolen emits an ear-piercing sound inside the vehicle, making it impossible for the thieves to concentrate on driving it.

* The ignition key lock "looks" at the driver's fingerprint first to recognize him as a valid driver.

* Do away with the ignition key altogether--as it seems to be the way many cars are stolen--by electrically bypassing it.

Let the class use some computer-related instincts or knowledge to allow the car to make decisions based on what it is experiencing with the person sitting in the driver's seat.

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