Students use lego to build one of the first roller coaster models
The robotic roller coaster project started with kaiako (teachers) at Southern Cross school in South Auckland asking students what they wanted to learn more about. While brainstorming, the students expressed their interest in learning more about mātai ahupūngao (physics) and roller coasters. But there was a hotter at issue at hand they felt needed addressing.
Their school’s new building design was making their learning hubs humid, hot and noisy. If they could find a way to measure this, then maybe they could make a case to have the conditions improved.
The tauira then came up with the idea to develop a robotic measuring machine suspended on wires around the classroom, like a roller coaster.
University of Auckland student working with Southern Cross students
“We had a problem with our new building design where it gets extremely hot in the afternoons and the ventilation wasn’t ideal,” says programme coordinator Donna Lougher, “So a project centred around the students initial interest in roller coasters and design married up with heat, noise and air quality in our hubs.”
“When we looked at the scope of the project we realised it was actually three projects in one. There were a multitude of parts to do before we could even look at building a roller coaster. What was physics? How do weather patterns work? What was needed to design the roller coaster? How did they work?”
The first step would be for the students to learn about roller coaster physics and mechanics, so they took a trip to Rainbow’s End theme park where they learned all about roller coaster design.
They then returned to the classroom and with the support of a student from the University of Auckland, were able to begin building their first model. But they quickly learned it was going to be a bumpy ride.
Students working on roller coaster model
At first the tauira tried to make the first prototypes with recycled products, but these proved to be less sturdy and didn’t work as well as other materials, so this brought them back to square one.
They later learned that the roller coasters would have different needs based on where they would be stationed, like the one they assembled on a flat surface versus the one on the wall.
“Keeping the roller coaster on the wall. It fell down lots. It was knocked down. The hinges we put it up on weren't as solid to hold the actual roller coaster. With the help of Fisher & Paykel Healthcare engineers they 3D printed some stronger supports.”
Fisher and Paykel engineers talking to tauira
These weren’t the only obstacles the tauira had to overcome – they had to work around COVID-19 restrictions and a measles outbreak at their school. And though they haven’t quite reached their final design, the students have already learned a lot along the way.
“So far our students have investigated weather patterns. They have looked at how physics work in a roller coaster and how difficult it was to design a roller coaster.”
Tauira at Southern Cross school in Auckland are working to develop a robotic roller coaster to measure the noise and air quality of their learning hubs.
Their next steps will be to begin programming the robotic model so that it starts monitoring heat and collecting data.
The students hope that they can use this data to make a case for an air conditioner or to alter the building’s design.
They also hope that when they’re finished they can share their project with other schools that are looking at new buildings, as their findings could offer some tips on how important it is to consider noise levels, heat and the amount of students in the planning stage of a building redesign.
About the project
This project is supported by Fisher & Paykel, whose engineers worked directly with students, and the South Auckland Participatory Science Platform.