MechSE students design best food truck in competition

After competing in Shell’s first Hack-a-Truck Competition at the Google Garage in Mountain View, California, four members of the Illini EcoConcept team returned as first place winners for their food truck design.
MechSE seniors Jason Pard Liew, Jigar Patel, and Alessia Serafino, and sophomore Michael Shea competed on behalf of their team in San Francisco last month, where they were asked to develop an eco-friendly food truck.
“One of the goals with this hack-a-thon was to find a new and exciting way to enjoy a phenomenon that everyone would like, in a more energy efficient way, while also looking into renewable energy sources,” Liew said. “So they thought the best way to celebrate this was with food, and the food truck trend.”
The Hack-a-Truck competition involved eight universities from around the country, each one paired with another to create a team. The University of Illinois was paired with Louisiana Tech University, and the two teams worked together to design the truck, which took first place for best design and as the overall winner. 
According to Shea, each team was responsible for designing different parts of the truck, and they only had a day to complete the design before presenting it to a panel of judges—which included representatives from Shell and Cruising Kitchens (a company that manufactures food trucks), along with a chef who previously managed a food truck. 
Serafino said the team aimed to keep human interaction in mind when designing their truck, considering aspects like where customers would order, whether they would sit around the vehicle and eat, as well as the idea of providing entertainment. 
Another major part of the design concerned the food. Serafino said it was necessary for them to know their menu so they could design around space requirements for food prep and appliances. For this food truck, the team chose gyros as the primary food offering. With a superhero theme, they named their company SuperGyros. 
Liew said using a superhero theme was fitting because, if it won, this food truck would eventually be donated to a low-income community. Since superheroes can symbolize “hope and something good,” Liew said it could be an inspiring message for communities. 
“It was also the fact that people of all ages can relate to a superhero or a comic,” Serafino said. 
To make the truck eco-friendly, they incorporated the concept of capture mobility, which captures and uses the energy generated from moving people and vehicles. One technology they used was a tile that generates electricity when touched and walked on. As the chefs and employees walk around, they generate the electricity required to keep the truck running. The team also added gravity light, which uses a pulley system to generate electricity. Additionally, the truck’s design included solar panels and a sliding rooftop. 
“The main things [Shell] wanted to get across was that we were using all the types of renewable technology that they had to offer and try to create this eclectic and unique experience through these combinations of technology, our ideas, and our designs,” Shea said. 
The winning design will be used by Cruising Kitchens to build a new food truck that will embark on a cross-country tour before being donated to a low-income community.
Liew said the competition introduced them to an array of new ideas, and it was an experience that he hopes will be carried on by future EcoConcept members.