Break and build better


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When I go on news websites, I make a point of looking for some good news. This isn’t always easy. Spend more than a few minutes on your news site of choice and you’ll soon find yourself sucked into a vortex of anxiety, depression and fear. Finding the positives can be hard.

So, where do I look?

The science sections. The technology tabs. I look there for proof that there are people still out there, pushing us forward. Not dragging us backward. It’s the same reason I’m addicted to TED talks. I like being encouraged. I like knowing there’s more going on than people just being crappy to each other in one form or another. I like knowing people are trying to do and be more. 

This is one of the reasons why the ARION project attracted me so much. It was a bunch of people right here on my doorstep personifying what I was looking for every day. Let me explain what I mean. 

I think we can safely say the term ‘world record’ doesn’t quite carry the same sense of elitism it once did. Google weirdest world records and have a look. 

But true records, like the human powered land speed record, these are real classics. Real endeavours beyond stuffing your face full of hot dogs and watery buns or injecting steroids into your arms so you can claim to have the world’s largest. This record demands the combination of everything a real record should- brains, brawn and cutting edge technology. 

Records are a representation of the very best of what we can do. Attempting to break records means we’re trying to get better. And ultimately, breaking them means we’ve succeeded. For now. 

The whole thing is founded on the belief that we can and will do better as a group of largely lost and confused individuals on a big rock in space. That we’re not just content to sit back once something has been done. It’s one of the most redeeming qualities we have. 

Cynics, at this point, may scoff.

What’s the point? It doesn’t mean anything. Break a record? It will just get broken again. It doesn’t make any money. It’s not really profitable. In fact it costs money. How does hurling yourself down a runway move mankind forward?

That depends on what you choose to see when you look at something like the ARION project and the human powered land speed record breaking attempts. Some will choose to see a fruitless and vainglorious endeavour. I see something else when I look at the people involved and the world ARION exists in.

I see something inherently good. 

I asked Dave Collins, ULV Team rider, what the community was like. Was it competitive? Keeping everything about their team top secret? Was it like Wacky Races out in the desert? All trying to sabotage each other? Did anyone paint a sign which took someone off a cliff? 

No. While everyone wanted their team to win, there was the undeniable wish by all that the record be broken by somebody out there. Teams were helping each other out when they could. Ideas and experiences were shared. The community is exactly the same when you look on social media. In groups like World Human Powered Speed Challenge on Facebook, progress, concepts and designs are posted for all to see. Why? Because in true rarity- people genuinely want to see others do well and want to see the field advanced. 

Then I spoke with Rob McKenzie and Rory Curtis from the engineering team. I asked about how they found the likes of sponsorships and contributions from company bodies. Was it a battle to get help out of them?

No. Their sponsors were fantastic and absolutely intrinsic to the successes ARION had last year. Even more so, this year. Already, Pentaxia have machined the shell plug so moulds can be created. Sigmatex have provided the carbon fibre to manufacture the shell and components. Friends of the University of Liverpool stepped up and gave a grant for testing purposes. Tygavec provided resin infusion materials and Sample & Hold let the team use their 3D scanners for rider analysis. And it’s only January. There’s still much more to come from their other sponsors. 

The two conversations highlighted what makes the ARION project so appealing in terms of benevolence.

Contribution.

Contribution is the integral factor. People and companies contribute to the project and in turn, the project contributes to the field and then it flows back again. It’s cyclical. 

The engineers contribute their education, skills and ideas. Their Masters degrees exemplify this academically and the success of the bike on the track shows them to the world. Every Watt of power they see converted to real speed is something for the students behind them to begin with as they take up the mantle. Any worthwhile or groundbreaking developments they make in engineering will feed through into industry and academia. Their knowledge shared for those seeking similar pursuits in speed or maybe even to the benefit of completely unrelated fields. We live in an age when creative use of existing knowledge, principles and technology is bringing us a constant stream of innovation in application. 

The riders contribute to the world of athletics and sports science. They set the bar for the next generation of athletes. They show people what can be done and inspire those in the wings. 

Their coaches will take their successful methods and apply them to others under their tutelage in the future. Sometime, somewhere, another rider will reach their best with the help of those holding the stopwatches in the gym over the next seven months. 

The sponsors use the collective power of their products and capital to help the project reach a new pinnacle. The individuals in the companies who are passionate about seeing their products, technology and financing put to test then get to see what people can do with them. And so do others. Interest is returned. 

The success of ARION 2 can never be 100% guaranteed. But 100% contribution from everyone involved, can.

And that is encouraging to me.