On Sunday 27th November I was at the Evolocity Festt event at the A&P showgrounds. This was the final event for the Evolocity Schools competition, as well as a showcase for Electric Vehicles, sustainable technology and other cool things, like racing drones and model rockets.
As well as being involved with a team of IPENZ volunteers to help out with marshalling and traffic control, I was also asked to judge the competing school vehicles for the Innovation award, alongside Ross Major. And aside from the free-trade chocolate I was given for my efforts, it was rewarding in it’s own right to see the thought and attention that the next generation of engineers had put into their work.
In short, the competition involved the engineering of a vehicle with a 300 watt motor to compete in a set of competitions, a top speed competition, a maneuverability challenge, an endurance challenge and a rolling resistance test. Most vehicles were a combination of bike parts, mobility scooters and steel pipes, with very differing levels of complexity and innovation.
While judging the vehicles, it was interesting to consider what innovation is, in contrast to invention. For this particular competition we were looking for innovation within a defined set of parameters, specifically their technical documentation, practicality of final design and technical difficulty of the vehicle. In short, a fair analogy of what would be considered good engineering innovation. And justifiably, it was the vehicle that showed the best handling, comfort, design finish and complexity that we judged to be the most innovative.
However, if we were to judge more on inventiveness, that ability to think out of the box and do something unexpected, then we would have come to a different conclusion. Like the kart that utilised a pvc drum as a chassis, or the kart that put the steering kingpin directly underneath the driver. These were inventive ideas, but lacked the detailed design and polish to compete with the winner.
And this is exactly what we see in our day-to-day, the most innovative offerings from Toyota or Honda are nowhere near as inventive as what might be getting cooked up in a garage in Invercargill, Burt Munroe styles, but they are considerably more commercially viable. In short, this highlights the difference between an inventor and an engineer. We need both, of course, and it was good to see considerable evidence of both in the enthusiastic students out on the track on Sunday.