“If you have an idea, a part of an idea, or even just a seed of an idea, you can submit a proposal and have a shot at getting ahold of the resources to make it a reality.”
—Matthew Stewart, Fall 2012 Innovation Program Participant
Matthew Stewart is a self-described “running nut.” In his spare time Matthew enjoys running everything from 5Ks to marathons, but he dreams of running longer distances.
Dreams he’d like to turn into reality.
The thing keeping Matthew from realizing his dreams is energy and water. Long distance runners need to refuel. If you’ve watched or participated in a marathon, you’ll have seen the stations where runners take water and food as they pass. Runners not participating in such races—the “running nuts,” enthusiastic amateurs, commuters who run to work—have to carry their own gear and provisions. The longer the run, the more food, water, and gear to carry. This equation puts serious limitations on long distance runners. Food, water, and gear are heavy, carrying them changes the way the runner’s body moves, makes it less efficient. Matthew Stewart’s innovative solution to carrying provision was to design a lightweight cart that long distance runners could fill with enough food, water, and gear to run a marathon a day for days, efficiently and without stopping.
Using a cart to transport materials while walking or running is not a new idea. Matthew stated that the idea for his cart came from a film in which ultramarathon runner Dean Karnazes ran across the US while pushing a stroller full of gear. Stewart though the idea good, but the execution all wrong: pushing a cart while running didn’t make sense from a physiological point of view. The stroller freed Karnazes from carrying his own water and food, but it also limited his body’s natural movement while running, replacing one limitation with another.
“I looked at Karnazes pushing that stroller and thought, that doesn’t make any sense.” Matthew said. “His arms were disengaged. His torso moved awkwardly. So I started thinking about designing a more efficient cart, one about shoulder width, belted to the runner’s hips and pulled rather than pushed. I wanted to put it on one wheel to improve maneuverability and decrease the weight.”
Stewart, who had been encouraged to submit a proposal to the Innovation Program by Dr. Gerry Recktenwald, Chair of the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, drafted a proposal of his idea.
While the Innovation Program cultivates creativity and innovation by encouraging students to submit a proposal to receive funding and resources for a project, it also provides students insight into and practice of the process of submitting project proposals as Matthew Stewart learned.
“My initial proposal was a narrative,” Matthew said. “This is why I want to make the cart; this is how I think it would benefit others. When I showed it to Dr. Recktenwald he said, ‘this is great, now change everything about it.’ I was presenting to engineers, he told me; they’d want to know about the design of the cart, what it would be made of, how much it would cost to make.
“I rewrote the proposal, this time showing it to Dr. Weislogel, who basically said the same thing: change everything. The critical responses I got from Drs. Recktenwald and Weislogel were great. They really helped me figure out how to present this kind of proposal. And the presentation to the panel was very much the same. They took my initial proposal and each member of the council submitted a series of questions that I think had to address in my presentation. I thought the questions were poignant and thoughtful.”
Matthew Stewart, along with his design team member Jon Garrison, Director of Product Engineering at Syncapse, is one of a number of teams selected by the Innovation Program Council this past fall to receive funding and access to university resources to take his idea from drawing board to prototype. If the initial project is successful it may be eligible for up to $3,000 in additional funding.
When fully assembled, Matthew’s innovative cart for long distance runners will weigh about 10 lbs. The cargo hold will have space enough to carry roughly 50 lbs. of gear and the sides of the cart will be equipped to carry panniers as well. In future iterations, Matthew envisions incorporating a small generator into the design that will allow long distance runners to charge a cell phone, laptop computer, or other electronic device. While Matthew sees his cart trailing behind long distance runners, he thinks the cart could also be useful to amateur runners taking shorter trips, people who commute by running, or even athletes who might use the cart in resistance training.
“I’ve always been a runner,” Matthew said. “When I’m running the world makes sense in a way that I cannot adequately express when I’m standing still. That’s why I wanted to design this cart. I think with the running culture growing the way it is, a cart like this could have an impact on a lot of enthusiastic runners.”