Academic In Residence: Rafael Upcroft

Over the past few weeks, we've had the great pleasure of hosting Rafael Upcroft, a PhD candidate at the UTAS School of Architecture.  Rafael's research is exploring whether cycling paths can be made more fun (and efficient) by creating undulations in the ground plane (rather than the usual plain, flat, straight cycling paths that are generally built).  This technique is used in pump tracks, which are a kind of cycling track that enable riders to build up speed without pedaling.

A pump track for BMX training.

A pump track for BMX training.

Here's a bit of background in Rafael's own words.

Conventional transit wisdom dictates that the ground plane should be ironed as flat as possible to create a path of least resistance between destination points for commuters. But what if a path form that allowed the rider to generate speed with less energy use were more enjoyable, and no more arduous than a conventional flat path? What if there was a form that resonated with my life philosophy, a form that could meld the most enjoyable path with the path of least resistance? With further research such a form could exist and be incorporated into future bike paths.

My starting point and inspiration is the unassuming ‘pump track’. For the uninitiated, this format of bike track is designed to enable a rider to build speed purely by ‘pumping’ the body up and down without pedalling. It works in a similar manner to generating speed with a skateboard in a bowl or when surfing on a wave. The idea is that when a cyclist ascends a ‘roller’ (the raised portions of the pump track) they reduce their weight by springing upwards and when they descend the other side they increase their weight by pushing the bike down with their legs. This results in a resultant weight that is greater going down the roller than up, causing the rider to increase their speed. Mountain Bikers have recently discovered the benefits of practicing on pump tracks as it helps them maintain and generate speed with less energy usage on cross country as well as down-hill courses.

To test his theory that bike paths can be made more fun by making them more like pump tracks, Rafael is going to use virtual reality to experiment with different track designs and measure how cyclists respond to each iteration.

When Rafael described his project to us, we were reminded of Globacore's VR homage to Paper Boy, "Paper Dude VR".  To say we were keen to follow along with Rafael's research and help out where we could is a bit of an understatement.

Paper Dude by Globacore.

Paper Dude by Globacore.

Also, Rafael was looking for a bit of help with understanding the Oculus Rift and getting the best possible result out of the VR application he would need to build to support his research.  So, we did what any self-respecting hackerspace would do in this circumstance and invited Rafael to work from the Innovation Circle whenever he likes -- particularly when he's working on the more tech-focused components of his PhD research.

From that point on, we've had the great pleasure of having Rafael working from the Battery Shed regularly and we're looking forward to collaborating with him over the next three years and helping to support his PhD research.

If you'd like to learn more about Rafael's PhD, he's posted a short introduction to the concept on a Cycle Space, a blog about cycling, architecture and urban design.