A Juicy Idea whose time has come: Local ASU student Spencer Price, part of winning design team
By Katie Scarvey
The bicycle made out of plastic bottles that Spencer Price of Salisbury helped design didn’t go very far on its test run. Still, the concept was good enough to win him a trip to the Google headquarters next month.
The son of Ron and Shirley Price of Salisbury, Spencer was part of a team of four industrial design students at Appalachian State University who participated in a national environmental design contest.
The rest of the team was comprised of Justin Henry, Andrew Drake and Ryan Klinger.
The bicycle they designed for the Juicy Ideas Entrepreneurial/Environmental Contest won them first place.
In February, they’ll get to tour the Googleplex in Mountain View, Calif., and be given a chance to pitch their product.
“We’re all really excited about it,” Spencer says. “Google’s one of the top companies.”
The contest, which was open to college students from around the country, challenged students to create something of value from an item that is typically thrown away. Each region was assigned a different item, and teams had 10 days to create their products and post a video to YouTube for judging.
With the goal of encouraging entrepreneurship and environmental responsibility, the contest was organized by AdvantageWest Economic Development Group and supported by Google Inc., DigitalChalk, American Green and Jute Networks.
Nationwide, 866 students on 268 teams, representing 28 colleges and universities in five areas of the country, participated in the contest. Nearly 250 videos were submitted for judging. Regional competitions whittled the number of teams down to 15 for the finals.
Spencer says that his team got started by “sitting around and brainstorming” to come up with an idea that would benefit the community. Before settling on a bicycle, they considered designing a bicycle helmet or a park bench.
During the 10 days that they had to complete the project, the team was “fairly skeptical” about the outcome.
The process, Spencer says, was very much “trial and error.”
“We would just see what worked and what didn’t,” he says.
“We would hit a brick wall, and then we’d have to figure out a way to make it work and we’d get excited. Then we’d hit another brick wall.”
It took them a few days to make a template for their “Green Machine” out of an old BMX bike.
In order to get the plastic bottles they needed, they hit ASU’s residence hall recycling bins and collected about 500 bottles.
They used a wooden dowel rod to make the frame and then layered bottles over that, shrinking them into place with a heat gun.
The shrinking process was necessary because they didn’t have the means to melt the polyethelene down to a liquid, Spencer explains, which would have created a bond.
The joints were the biggest challenge, he says.
“We couldn’t really get the bottles to go at an angle. We’d have to figure out something different for every single joint.”
Near the end of the process, they removed the dowel then added the metal components from the BMX bike ó the wheels, pedals, chain, etc.
Their YouTube video documents the process.
The riding part of the video is a little shaky ó nobody is ever shown actually pedaling the bike, but while some tweaking is in order (the team didn’t have time to make adjustments for the contest) it still seems clear that the bike design is viable.
Spencer figures that over the 10-day period, each team member put about 30-35 hours of work into the project.
The entry first won the Western North Carolina Region competition before advancing to the national contest, which had a different set of judges.
Judging was based on originality, creativity, entrepreneurship, innovation and environmental responsibility.
Teams from North Carolina dominated the national competition, with three of the top five entries.
The Appalachian team’s bicycle edged out a wind generator made of plastic bottles, created by a team from Western Carolina University.
Although Spencer has designed products in his classes ó including a light switch and tools ó he says he’s never done anything like this before.
The team hopes to see its bike in production eventually.
“We’re trying to find investors to put money into it,” Spencer says. If the bicycle made from recycled plastic ever goes into production, the plastic would be melted down and poured into injection molds ó something they weren’t able to do, he adds.
They envision fleets of their bikes on college campuses, available to all students to use on the honor system as transportation around campus.
Spencer moved to Salisbury in the summer of 2006, after he graduated from high school in Louisville, Ky. He began college at ASU that fall.
Spencer’s mother, Shirley, says that while her son never really enjoyed building with Legos as his brothers did, he did like to “take real things like his skateboard apart and put other pieces on it to make it something ‘better.’ ”
She also recalls that he and his friends built a clubhouse in the woods with old, discarded lumber.
Potato guns, she says, were another favorite thing “to create and tinker with.”
Shirley points out that she’s made a lot of things for her home with discarded items such as bowling pins, glass bottles and light bulbs.
In fact, at the beginning of the contest, a family friend from Kentucky e-mailed, saying, “With Spencer’s mom’s propensity for creating items out of trash and his dad’s fix-it know-how, there’s no way he can lose!”
Spencer plans to be part of the competition again next year.
For more information, go to www.juicyideas competition.com.
Their winning video can be viewed at www.youtube.com/ watch?v=N3-tKX446VM