DIY Project: Turning an Ordinary Couch Into RaceCouch

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Some couches can recline. Others sport a built-in refrigerator, cup holders, and a little cubby for the TV remote. Georgia Tech’s Wreck Racing, regular entrants in our $2000 Challenge, built a piece of living room furniture that can go nearly 20 mph.


Photography Credit: Tony Neste

Pre-Origin:

Where exactly the couch came from is a bit of a debate,” explains the team’s Rebekah L. Travis. “We reached out to alums on Facebook to see if anyone knew. The current responses are that it was bought off of Craigslist after the racing teams were relocated from the ‘Tin Building’ on Georgia Tech’s campus to the current location on 14th Street, or that it was donated to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers or to Parking Transportation Services about 10 years ago. All we truly know is that its story did not begin with Wreck Racing.”

No matter how the team got its now-iconic couch, that tan piece of furniture has been with them for years, regularly dragged from Atlanta to Gainesville for the $2000 Challenge. It’s a comfy, well-behaved couch.

Origins:

 A dare was presented to the team during the town hall held during the 2018 Challenge: “Y’all should race your couch.”

The Goal:

The idea was to have a companion project to the main Challenge car that would be much lower cost, lower stakes, and more focused on teaching people with less experience how to use power tools, work with electronics, and become familiar with the design process,” the team’s build book for the couch states. “The project was structured in a way such that the vast majority of the decision-making and creative freedom would be left to the new members, with leadership serving as a resource to point people in the right direction.”

Then some limits were added, Bekah explains: “There was a budget of $500 placed on the build, and the rule was that the couch had to be electric (for safety reasons and to force us out of our comfort zone) and could not be modified (it had to be completely removable from whatever system we designed).”


Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

Execution:

A Georgia Tech alum now working for Lime donated a pile of decommissioned electric scooters. Early testing showed that, yes, multiple Lime scooter motors would work in series. The motors would power a frame primarily built from 2×4s; the couch would simply sit on that frame.

On the Lime scooters, the motor is capable of supporting 340 pounds and a maximum speed of 15 mph,” their build book states. “Running four of these motors allows us to achieve similar speeds with the weight of the frame, couch and riders, which puts a running load averaging 250 pounds on the couch at all times.” Power comes from three 12-volt batteries wired in series.

An electric-powered couch is not complete without a way to stop or a way to turn,” the build book continues. The team originally thought that the motors’ internal resistance could be used to induce braking and steering. Testing, however, revealed that a real braking and turning system was needed.

The solution was to replace the front powered wheels with the brake wheels taken from the rear of the Lime scooter,” the book continues. “With the help of custom-designed and -fabricated mounts to accommodate the increased width of the brake wheel axle, RaceCouch can turn with a radius of 3 feet. The brakes provide the ability to corner more effectively, decelerate smoothly and perform tight U-turns.” The motor drivers–one per motor yet linked in series–are wired to a handlebar control unit.

Before RaceCouch’s debut at our $2019 Challenge, final touches included the footrest, a coat of paint and, finally, a dedication to Selim, a team alumni from Tunisia who was instrumental in the project’s early days.


Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

Watch Racecouch take on the 2019 $2000 Challenge autocross course:

 

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Comments
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RobertHess
RobertHess New Reader
6/21/20 12:32 p.m.

Loved the article on the race couch. Nice!

stuart in mn
stuart in mn MegaDork
6/21/20 2:58 p.m.

There used to be a guy in Minneapolis who would enter his motorized sofa in the annual Art Car parade.  There was someone else who combined a Laz-E-Boy recliner with a scooter, and apparently it was road legal - I'd see him driving around town and there were lights, mirrors and a license plate on it.

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