Four mechanical engineering students nationally recognised for flying fox design

Canterbury mechanical engineering students noticed a gap in the adventure tourism market and in response designed a flying fox with an innovative braking method.

Four University of Canterbury mechanical engineering honours students won the Ray Meyer medal for excellence in student design last Friday for their zipline flying fox design, involving a 400 metre high-wire ride dropping 150 vertical metres down the face of Coronet Peak.

The students, Ryan McKay, Sean Syman, Charles More and Craig MacDonald received the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand Ray Meyer Medal at an awards ceremony in Wellington last Friday. This is the ninth time the medal has been won by Canterbury students in the past 11 years.

The concept for the students’ zipline trolley originated because they noticed a commercial gap in the adventure tourism market; their design provides industry sponsor Holmes Solutions with a product with strong market possibilities, according to a release from the university.

The trolley was designed to run at a smooth and constant speed, regardless of the incline, making it an ideal choice for canopy tours, where groups of people travel down a series of ziplines or flying foxes through varying levels of forest, the release says.

University of Canterbury associate professor John Pearse who supervised the project, was in charge of establishing the viability of the concept, providing useful guidance for developing a successful and functional product.

“Ziplines are simple. A cable is connected from one platform to another, often crossing a valley or using other natural gradients. The industry sponsor of this project, Holmes Solutions, came to us with this problem with the idea of integrating their eddy current braking system with a zipline trolley.

“This provided a non-contact, constant velocity brake which removes the complications of wear and provides a smooth ride limiting all riders to the same speed. The students chose this research study as it provided a use for ski fields’ infrastructure during summer months, which opens a new market within the New Zealand adventure tourism industry,” Pearse says.

The students had to carry out all sorts of calculations to remedy the problem, predicting forces and speeds to ensure the device was designed to do the job properly. They then had it built and tested it on a trial zipline which was erected at Christchurch’s Spencer Park.

Pearse says with any adventure ride, safety was of the highest importance, “The zipline trolley designed for this project incorporates multiple connection points for both the rider to the trolley, and the trolley to the line. High factors of safety were used in the construction of the frame to ensure no component would fail in operation.

“The key innovation is being able to obtain a constant and controlled descent speed. By comparison, other braking systems tend to speed up when the overhead wire takes a steeper angle,” Pearse says.

He says the award is a massive endorsement of the quality of teaching and research at Canterbury, reflecting the outstanding capability of students to complete projects whose tangible deliverables have significant impact for end-users, companies, sponsors and the country.

Photo: Medal winners Ryan McKay, Charles More, Sean Syman and Craig MacDonald.