Engineering team making ‘best paddle in the world’

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31 Aug 2016

Making a kayak paddle that beats anything in the world, is the goal of Mechanical Engineering lecturer Graeme Harris and his student Alex Taylor.

Their research is based on top of the line paddle Epic Midwing. Kiwi athletes such as Lisa Carrington use something similar, but they're always looking for ways to become faster in the water.

"It's a popular and good paddle, but the flow could be better. We want to improve this with an aerodynamic technique and help Kiwi athletes," says Graeme.

Graeme started the project two years ago and he involves a new student every year.  Bachelor of Engineering Technology Mechanical student Alex leads the research project this year.

"Alex is the second student on this project. He has made good progress and stepped up after last year's student. He made an interesting design, I'm very proud of him."

"This project includes CAD design, Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and wind tunnel study as well as practical water testing, which is a great experience for a young engineer," says Graeme.

Engineers windtunnel

Alex and Graeme testing the paddle in the wind tunnel 

The research replaces three papers in Alex's last year of Engineering. It's a project of 450 hours, "but by the end of the year I will have gone way over", adds Alex.  "I don't think you can ever finish this project. It will keep evolving, but I love working on it. It is a real challenge and you're giving someone the opportunity to win"

Alex joined the project in February and has designed more than 20 paddles and printed 13 of them with a 3D-printer.

"We're aiming for the same weight and draft as a paddle now but we're changing the profile. We took a 3D scan to analyse it," says Alex.

"The new paddle will be very different. It has a different shape which maximises the performance and allows us to select the amount of drag we want."

Alex presented the project at Pitch a Project in the Ara Research Week. The judges were impressed and he won $500. A small reward for all those extra hours of hard work.

"I was very pleased to win Pitch a Project and walk home with $500!"

The team had a break through last month, creating a paddle that is producing exciting results.

"I'm nervous and confident at the same time. I hope it will work and kayakers will like it, because the new shape might involve a slight change of technique. Hopefully people can use it next year to compete."

We'll know the answer soon as they will undertake tests in the Lyttelton harbour.