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Berry students put chibi karts to the test

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“Chibi kart racing is a noncontact sport,” Zane Cochran, a Berry College creative technologies instructor, reminded students before their custom-built electric race karts hit the floor of Makervillage Wednesday evening.

Five teams of creative technologies students and an additional alumni team took to the multipurpose facility to put their chibi karts to a number of tests in an attempt to win the coveted Golden Unicorn Award. Braking and acceleration tests kicked off the competition, which then led into a timed solo race around a cone course, a drifting challenge, racing backward and, finally, battle ball — speeding around on karts in a game like dodgeball. Some skirted around corners with quickness while others, particularly the alumni team’s, had to be thrust forward in a rocking motion from the driver.

“The name of the game is go slow in the corners,” Cochran said.

This advice didn’t wholly sink in with one team’s driver, who took a corner too fast and smashed into an office cubicle, knocking the parts over the floor.

“Don’t go through the wall.”

Cochran said students are tasked with engineering, designing and building the chibi karts as part of class. And this year they decided to step it up a notch and pit students’ karts against each other in a fun competition, which included costumes and jests between teams.

The design of chibi karts, which sit low to the ground and have a U-shaped steering wheel, originated with an MIT professor, Cochran explained. Building on the initial idea, he incorporated it into his class in another way for students to creatively explore car design. Additionally, during the course of class, students convert a Volkswagen Karmann Ghia into an electric car and design a short bus to fit the specifications of a purpose they decide on.

For the latter, students turned the bus into a mobile video game studio, outfitted with multiple TV screens and game consoles, and a mobile musical stage.

Many students in the class have an interest in automotive technology, and teaching on autonomous and electric vehicles fits right in with what they may end up doing one day. But for all, the development of problem solving and critical thinking skills as part of making the chibi karts is a fruitful experience, Cochran said.