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Students Design Low-Cost, Electric-Powered Trike

Invention Is a Sustainable, Greener Way to Commute

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Student Christopher Leger demonstrates the prototype electric-powered tricycle that he and fellow undergraduate Josiah Hackendorf have created.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

Riding electric bicycles is fast becoming one of the most popular forms of cycling in the country. Not only can it give you the freedom and fun of being a kid again, but it is also a sustainable and environmentally friendly way to commute and run errands.

Christopher Leger, an electrical engineering and math sophomore, and Josiah Hackendorf, a mechanical engineering senior, have created a prototype electric-powered tricycle that would help commuters cut down on air pollution and gas consumption.

“You can use the trike daily for commuting to school,” says Leger, who lives in Tyngsboro. “Its three-wheel design makes it safer and more stable on the road.”

A Low-Cost Alternative

Commercial electric bikes can cost anywhere from $400 to more than $1,000.

“Do-it-yourselfers can follow our design and build one for only $250,” says Leger.  

The trike uses a 500-watt DC motor for the front wheel’s hub, which directly drives the trike at speeds of up to nearly 20 miles per hour. The motor is powered by rechargeable lead-acid batteries that produce a total of 36 volts. A computerized controller adjusts the voltage output and the motor’s speed.

“Our trike has a range of about 40 to 50 miles on a single charge,” notes Leger. “It weighs about 40 pounds, including the batteries.”

The trike still has pedals in case the rider wants to exercise, or when there is an electrical/mechanical breakdown, or the batteries simply run out of juice, he adds.

Next Step: Solar Power

The students are planning to make improvements to the trike’s design next summer, including replacing the rear basket with another seat so two people can ride at the same time. They also plan to add a solar panel, which will be mounted above the riders to power the motor and act as a sun shade.

“With the solar panel, you won’t need a storage battery to operate the trike,” explains Prof. Samson Mil’shtein, director of UMass Lowell’s Advanced Electronic Technology Center and the students’ faculty adviser. “It will run directly off the solar panel. But you can certainly add a battery if you want to ride on a cloudy day. On a sunny day, the panel can run the trike and recharge the battery at the same time.”