Many of us spent a good portion of our university years battling it out in Mario Kart. Those carefully-honed skills aren’t exactly a big seller on your CV, unless you happen to be one of four Colorado State University students who created a real-life version of the game, complete with weapons and power-ups.
It’s called Junkyard Battle Racers. Undergrad engineering students Alex Zenk, Katie Johnson, Floyd Bundrant, and Jacob Gover managed to use what they’d learned in their mechatronics class to create a pair of interactive go-karts that turn racing into more than just a test of their driving skills.
Like with Mario Kart, power-ups are placed along the track in the form of shallow cardboard risers that can be detected by the go-karts when they drive over them. These randomly assign the kart with either a speed boost, a shield, or a pair of weapons that can be used against other racers. A small LCD display on the steering wheel lets the driver know what special ability they’ve picked up, but there are also sound effects and a computer voice so drivers don’t have to take their eyes off the road.
Acceleration and braking on the karts is partially controlled by the driver and partially by its onboard computers. When a speed boost is picked up, the kart can temporarily accelerate to twice its usual speed. But a weapon system—essentially, infrared blasters and detectors on each kart—can also hinder speed. When hit by an EMP, the karts will temporarily lose power and coast along for 15 seconds. But when hit by a death beam, the brakes are applied as well, bringing the kart to an immediate stand still giving your opponent the chance to race ahead.
It sounds both frustrating and fun at the same time, which is exactly the reason we all fell in love with Mario Kart in the first place. But without those incredibly annoying blue shells, this version might actually be far more entertaining.