A wind-powered vehicle recently shattered a world record by traveling 2.8 times faster than the speed of the wind that propelled it. Rick Cavallaro and his crew at fasterthanthewind.org knew they could break the record with their simple — but mind boggling — lightweight aerodynamic cart. The wheels of the vehicle spin the 17 foot wind turbine, which in turn gets a boost from the prevailing winds, transferring power back to the wheels. Through a remarkable feat of physics the cart goes faster than the wind.
The argument of whether or not you can be powered by the wind and travel faster than it is a heated topic of conversation in aerodynamics circles. Leave it to Rick Cavallaro to definitively decide this very touchy wind traveling riddle. “People’s intuition is extremely strong on the topic,” Cavallaro, an aerodynamicist who captained the team, told Wired. “There are literally thousands of pages of debate on internet forums about the topic.” Cavallaro did some math and decided to build a model to settle the argument once and for all.
His cart has quite a heavy duty transmission that handles all the energy transfer from wind to turbine to wheel to turbine — and back again. It took his team more than a year to build the right setup: “You’ve got to come up with a transmission that can handle those loads, even though it’s not at a high horsepower”. “You break some things, and then you build bigger.” The transmission proved sturdy, the cart proved its point, and now Cavallaro and his team .