The No-Problem Problem posed in the April 17 design class
session of Design News was, "Design a 12-speed mountain bike for a flea, with an aluminum frame, steel pedals, etc., etc., etc." The problem then went on to ask, "Why can't this problem be solved?"
A flea and its new mountain bike wish to cross a stream.
It boards a motorboat, capable of a speed of 16 ft/second. In order to
cross the stream in the shortest possible time, what direction should the
boat captain keep the bow pointed in if the stream is flowing west at a
velocity of 8 ft/sec?
A) N 30ºW
B) N 60ºW
D) N 30ºE
See answer below.
Adapted from Fundamentals of
Engineering Examination., Eugene L. Boronow, Prentice Hall Press, Simon
& Shuster Inc., 1986.
This problem poses the engineering designer with numerous human factors (flea factors?) design problems as listed below:
How many handles to design into the bike's handlebars?
How many pedals to provide for the flea?
Whether the bike can be a tandem or if the design is limited to a single rider? This is especially of interest because a design for 12 fleas would meet the criteria for a twelve speed bike—accomplished by simply adding more riders.
Would the fleas prefer a traditional bike design or a more efficient recumbent style?
Is the required "cage" for the water bottle, or is it to keep the flea on the bike, or is it to provide an enclosure for the flea to ride the bike inside of like the motorcycle riders at a circus?
Just what qualifies as an "acceptable profit margin" in today's environment?
Once the project manager, or customer, has addressed these concerns and design hurdles, there remains the question, "Why should the designer incorporate ancient technologies into a new product design?" Specification for the bike's design stipulates: aluminum frame (why not design with a lighter, more efficient material?), steel pedals (a flea would probably prefer something lighter weight and smaller in size), and Shimano derailleurs (sole source specification would inevitably erode or limit the project's profit margin potential).
Using obsolete design specifications, and unquantified design parameters, clearly prevents this project from being completed, or solved.
NOW, for the history lesson.....
Even if you were to succeed in designing this bicycle, who
would you market it to? This No-Problem represents the classical dilemma for
engineering students. The assumption, "If you build a better mouse-trap the
world will beat a path to your door" just doesn't work in real-world situations.
If you build a better flea bicycle, the flea will still prefer to travel via cat
or dog! The main issue that influences the flea, in this case, is that the cat
and dog provide free "in-travel" food service AND they enable to flea to arrive
at his destination refreshed and ready to take on the world.
Headwork Answer: C