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Press Release

Cal Poly Amusement Park Club Wins National Contest with Model Roller Coaster

Contact: Emily Slater

805-756-6593, 805-266-0208; [email protected]

SAN LUIS OBISPO — A Cal Poly club of themed entertainment enthusiasts claimed first place at a national ride engineering contest with a model roller coaster that showed creativity, ingenuity and manufacturing prowess.

Cal Poly Amusement Park Engineers and Designers, or CAPED, wowed Ride Engineering Competition judges with the jungle-themed entry, winning overall and technical writing categories.

Eight students pose infront of their roller coaster entry and control board
Members of Cal Poly Amusement Park Engineers and Designers display their Jammin’ Jungle roller coaster after receiving news of two first-place wins at the Ride Engineering Competition in Charlotte, North Carolina.  

Photo courtesy of Cal Poly Amusement Park Engineers and Designers

“This competition helped me see behind the scenes of the whole amusement design process, something I’ve always been passionate about,” said Tim Jain, a mechanical engineering master’s student and project manager for CAPED’s Ride Engineering Competition team. “I’m confident that the experience inspired our members for years to come.”

CAPED was founded in 2006 to help students from a range of disciplines appreciate, learn about and connect with the themed entertainment industry and its focus on the design and installation of interactive and immersive environments, rides and attractions. The club hosts speakers in the field, sends members to conferences and organizes projects including an entry for the Ride Engineering Competition, a nonprofit run by a team of volunteer students and young professionals.

The contest was conceived during COVID and held in a virtual format until this year, when teams from universities across the country traveled to Carowinds amusement park in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the April 14-15 competition. The park, which has been in operation since 1973, attracts 2 million visitors with 45 attractions that include over a dozen roller coasters.

The Ride Engineering Competition prompt for 2023 — Track Takeover: Roller Coaster Tech Challenge — asked teams to design, engineer and manufacture a section of a roller coaster of a certain size that could run for six continuous hours without an operator.

CAPED’s Jammin’ Jungle ride features a ladybug-shaped car with room for four Starburst candy chews, representing riders, that follows a winding steel track from the top of the forest to the bottom as it tries to avoid getting eaten by monkeys swinging from branches.

“We wanted to give riders a thrilling-but-safe experience,” said Jain, who also competed in last year’s challenge, when CAPED placed third with its drop tower design.

This year’s project was launched as 30 to 40 CAPED members were split into four sub-teams: mechanical; controls; build/theming; and standards. From December through early April, students gathered throughout the week to work on their project assignments, then met as a full team on Sundays to report their progress.

A student welds his CAPED team's roller coaster model
Matthew Eggers, a mechanical engineering senior and CAPED manufacturing team member, precisely places MIG welding beads on small surfaces of the track cross-section pieces. MIG welding is an arc welding process used to join two base materials together.

Photo courtesy of Cal Poly Amusement Park Engineers and Designers

While engineering majors are the most prevalent in CAPED, the club also attracts students outside the college, from English majors who penned the systems engineering report to architecture majors who helped meet industry amusement park attraction standards.

The project called for creativity and lots of manufacturing — bending track, cutting to length and welding sections together.

“There were many chances for people to get into the shop to manufacture prototypes and try different things to see what worked,” Jain said. “It was all Learn by Doing.”

The win is only the beginning of more good things for the club that Jain believes can bolster the themed entertainment industry with an infusion of Cal Poly graduates.

Jain, who grew up with an annual pass to Disneyland, will finish his blended master’s program this summer, leaving Cal Poly with industry aspirations and a greater appreciation for the roller coasters he’s been riding since he was a kid.

“I am more reassured to ride attractions now, because I know the amount of time that goes into it,” he said. “You can trust the engineers.”