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This is how we roll: Mechanical engineering seniors wrap up the semester on two wheels

The team stands alongside their bike at a competition in Ames, Iowa.

The academic year is over, and while most students were planning their big walk across the stage, four engineering students spent their last days at Tech rolling along on some very unique wheels.

Mechanical engineering graduates Geoffroy Gauneau (France), Matthew Pittman (West Virginia), Manual Serrano Laguna (Spain) and Amr Semmami (Morocco) worked together on their senior project to design a hydraulic-powered bicycle.

“A hydraulic bicycle is not something that you see every day,” said Gauneau. “The reason behind this challenge is to introduce students into hydraulics and fluid power. Get them to discover the industry and the applications of fluid power and hydraulics.”

To meet that goal, the team created a bicycle that was powered by a mix of human effort and mechanical innovation. They dubbed the bike “Hydroller,” which Gauneau explained is a fusion of “hydraulic” and “roller.”

A view of the Hydroller's WVU Tech insignia.

“The project is unique because there is no mechanical connection between the pedals and the back wheel like on a traditional bicycle,” said Pittman.

Pittman explained that, when a rider pedals the bike, a hydraulic pump moves fluid into a hydraulic motor, causing that motor to rotate. That energy is transferred to the back wheel to help propel the bike and its rider forward.

“Although it is not as efficient as a typical bicycle, it showcases the hydraulic principles that could easily be applied to the design of a more conventional machine or system,” said Pittman.

To build the machine, the team had to divvy up the work to play to one another’s strengths. They also had to take a deep dive into the field of hydraulics.

“We started by teaching ourselves about hydraulics and fluid power. Then we researched and studied on the previous years of the competition – what was done and how it was done; what worked and what did not work,” said Gauneau.  

The team also equipped Hydroller with some unique features such as regenerative braking, allowing the built to capture the energy that helps to stop the bike.

“The energy is stored in a hydraulic accumulator in the form of pressurized hydraulic fluid. The design also includes ‘boost mode’ which will propel the vehicle without pedaling by releasing the pressurized fluid directly to the hydraulic motor to spin the back wheel,” said Pittman.

Nine months after they started the project, the team put the finishing touches on the bike.

At the races

In April, the team and their advisor, Dr. Yogendra Panta, put their creation to the test at the National Fluid Power Association Fluid Powered Vehicle Challenge in Ames, Iowa.

The team competed against a dozen schools from throughout in the United States in three events: a 600-foot sprint race; an efficiency race where competitors could only use the hydraulic boost mode; and an endurance race.

Matthew Pittman shares information on the project at the WVU Tech Design Expo.

The team started strong, landing the fifth spot in the sprint and efficiency races.

Then they hit a snag.

“Unfortunately, we had a mechanical issue on the endurance race which caused us to add over five minutes on the final time,” said Gauneau.

But in that five minutes, the team came together in such a way that they managed to fix the issue and still rise to seventh place. The work even landed them a $500 prize to bring home to the department.

“Ultimately the team won Best Teamwork for overcoming the technical issue by working together to complete the events,” said Pittman.

For Gauneau, the experience of creating the bike and the trip to Iowa was a reminder of why he chose this field.

“It was a great opportunity to create connections with the hydraulic industry and the people that work in it. The best part of the experience for me was when we got there and got to see all the other vehicles and how they were made,” he said.  

“I came back from the competition with more motivation than before to pursue a career in the engineering field, and more specifically in hydraulics,” he added.

Now that the experience is over and the degrees are earned, the team will head out into their respective careers with their newfound skills. Serrano Laguna and Semmami are heading into the workforce. Gauneau is thinking about grad school. Pittman has landed a position with a government contractor working for the U.S. Navy.