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Student-designed and manufactured 'RISD Rover' gets test run before NASA competition

A tricycle built for two spotted tooling around the South Water Street area of Providence Thursday, March 23, 2017, was no ordinary cruiser. (WJAR)

A tricycle built for two spotted tooling around the South Water Street area of Providence Thursday morning was no ordinary cruiser.

It's the work of Industrial Design students at the Rhode Island School of Design -- and you might see it on Mars someday.

All this school year, 18 RISD students have been focusing on designing and creating virtually from scratch the $12,000 lightweight, non-pneumatic -- meaning "no air allowed" -- human-powered, off-planet vehicle.

They're up against other college and high school students traveling to NASA's U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama next week for the Human Exploration Rover Challenge to come up with the fastest, lightest, non-motorized vehicle that can be used by astronauts to explore the surface of Mars in the future.

RISD Industrial Design senior Robert Wang has been in previous competitions.

“The course is really tough,” he told NBC 10 News. “There are certain obstacles that no team ever got over last year.”

In 2016, RISD came in second place overall, and took home the “Featherweight Award.”

The two-decades old competition is a way to encourage young minds to find solutions to the problems that'll be faced as we reach out into the final frontier. The coolest thing about all this, according to Su Wha, another RISD Industrial Design senior, “What we've designed on paper become, like, a physical object.”

One of the requirements of the competition is that all the contraptions have to be able to collapse into a five-foot cube.

“If there's a way to make them even more compact, I think it would be very efficient,” Wha added.

Except for wheel hubs, bearings, and bushings, every other part like the carbon fiber leaf springs, and the independent suspension system, must be hand-made and machined by team-members.

So does the winner get to go to Mars?

“Not quite,” Wang said. “I wish though. Yeah, that would be cool.”

You actually get bragging rights, and the eye of NASA that's looking to hire the next generation.

“To actually see this thing complete and finish the race is just a huge reward in itself,” Wang said.

Click here to learn more.

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