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Propul~Surf screw-propelled snowboard rips uphill

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April 25, 2013

The students tested the Propul~Surf in the Alps recently

The students tested the Propul~Surf in the Alps recently

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Snowboarders endure a lot of issues when compared to their skiing counterparts – these include twisting and contorting their ankles to fit on footrests designed for skiers, wearing useless leashes around their legs even though skis are more likely to pop off, and getting stuck on flat traverses that skiers push through with their poles. All those issues aren't getting solved in a day, but a group of French students is working on the last one. Their solution is called the Propul~Surf and it's designed to motor knuckle-draggers over flat ground and up hills.

If the project works out, snowboarders will have their own board-specific answer to the Skizee. Judging by the video clip below, the Propul~Surf may never be as fast or fun as the Skizee, but as a school science project, it just needs to be a cool, working proof of concept. And it's definitely that.

The Propul~Surf is being developed by a group of high school seniors studying science and engineering at the Lycee Parc Chabrieres school in the suburbs outside Lyon, France. It is based on Archimedes' screw, a large screw for moving water from low to high ground popularly traced back to the 3rd century B.C. While the screw can take slightly different forms, they all carry water upward via rotating threading. In a time before modern pumps and plumbing, the Archimedes' screw helped in moving water for irrigation, post-flooding removal and other activities. In fact, the design was so simple and effective, machines based on the same principles are still used today, thousands of years later.

Students prepare the screws

The Propul-Surf uses the basic Archimedes design to create forward momentum. The two screws located at the tail of the board are powered by small electric bicycle motors. As the threads rotate against the snow, they push the snowboard forward. Think about a screw being pulled out a power drill, only horizontally on the ground.

Unlike the Skizee, the Propul-Surf was not necessarily designed to be a fast, adrenaline-spiking activity on its own but to assist snowboarders in backcountry freeriding. Out where there are no ski lifts, snowboarders typically reach backcountry runs by hiking, skinning, or taking a vehicle like a snowmobile or helicopter. With the Propul~Surf, a snowboarder could motor himself up the mountain or hill, take it off the board, strap it to his back and then snowboard down. Unlike a snowmobile or helicopter, the rider could do it all in one trip without an extra driver. It would also be less strenuous than snowshoeing, splitboarding or foldable-skiing, and would allow him to use a solid snowboard instead of a splitboard.

The students are still tweaking and testing the Propul-Surf, but their teacher Laurent Neau told us that the initial test data shows that the device can work both on flat terrain and up hills. He also said that it should work in all types of snow, and in the video below, you can watch it working slowly but surely in the heavy, wet spring slush that covers the French Alps at the moment.

Neau conceded that the idea for an Archimedes' screw snow propeller isn't a new one. Screw-propelled vehicles have existed for decades (they even have their own Wiki page), and the Armstead Snow Motor from the 1920s is identical in principle to the Propul-Surf but much larger in scale, designed to power vehicles and machinery. Neau and his students came across some of those old designs while researching ideas for moving a snowboard uphill without a ski lift and decided to apply something similar to the problem.

The screws propel the snowboard forward

The five students have been working on the device since last September and are preparing it for the Engineering Science Olympiad finals in Paris next month. Neau was unable to share all of the specifics, such as motor and battery ratings, because of the upcoming competition.

For now the Propul~Surf is just a high school science project, but Neau did mention the possibility of pursuing it as a market product if a manufacturer were to show interest. He said that the weight could easily be brought down between 9 and 15 pounds (4 and 7 kg) with more advanced components and design.

Whether or not the Propul~surf – or something like it – ever becomes a practical device, it's sure a lot cooler than anything I ever got to do in science class.

About the Author
C.C. Weiss Upon graduating college with a poli sci degree, Chris toiled in the political world for several years. Realizing he was better off making cynical comments from afar than actually getting involved in all that mess, he turned away from matters of government and news to cover the things that really matter: outdoor recreation, cool cars, technology, wild gadgets and all forms of other toys. He's happily following the wisdom of his father who told him that if you find something you love to do, it won't really be work.   All articles by C.C. Weiss
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14 Comments

That is going to totally destroy down hill performance.

Slowburn
25th April, 2013 @ 04:31 pm PDT

It would. That's why they can take it off. But I can't see how they mount it on the board. Probably just screws

Facebook User
25th April, 2013 @ 05:41 pm PDT

Slowburn, from the article:

With the Propul~Surf, a snowboarder could motor himself up the mountain or hill, take it off the board, strap it to his back and then snowboard down.

How will that ruin the downhill performance of the board?

Marc 1
25th April, 2013 @ 06:17 pm PDT

After watching the video, i rename this device the Snow Sloth for its speed and agility.

Seriously though, this thing is way too slow and underpowered to move you up hill more than about 50m. You would be better off being towed by a snowmobile, which would be much much quicker and is designed well for the task, unlike this device.

Maybe try rockets next time...

Oztechi
25th April, 2013 @ 10:50 pm PDT

Seems the Russians may have invented a slightly more powerful and robust version as seen in this video:



ALNimrod
26th April, 2013 @ 12:54 am PDT

It is a high school project, the conception period and budget were obviously limited. It is said that the performance was to be improved with the use of better advanced components.

I'm not part of the project ; but please keep in mind this is a prototype. I think it's a bit soon to venture criticism about speed...

Snowill
26th April, 2013 @ 02:13 am PDT

Given that the forward force is created by the compression of the snow, the function should be improved if the pitch of the screw increases gradually.

SoundRacer
26th April, 2013 @ 03:01 am PDT

Neat school science project. Criticizing it on commercial or practical feasibility isn't really fair. That was probably never the goal. I'm sure that it was an engaging learning experience for the students involved.

Siegfried Gust
26th April, 2013 @ 04:39 am PDT

Remember it is a school project with all its limitations (time, money, knowledge, etc...)

My students did well and I am pretty confident that, according to the data we have collected, the V2 of the Propul~Surf will climb snowy hills next year, in puffy snow on a shiny day in the Alps.

;-)

Laurent N
26th April, 2013 @ 05:11 am PDT

It's great to see old ideas revived in another generation. Even prior to the Russians' attack vehicle was the 1929 Fordson Snow Motor as seen here

AllenH
26th April, 2013 @ 10:41 am PDT

Haven't read or seen all the stuff about this, but so far I'm wondering about the key variables like 1. the kinds of snow you might encounter - if the vanes of the drive cylinders could be designed to retract or extend depending on the snow type. Maximum for powder, less for wet compact, maybe.

I'm wondering about 2. buoyancy of board on light deep powder - if maybe the board itself could be made to feature internal slats to widen/lengthen, providing greater or lesser footprint area.

I might consider 3. putting the mechanical drive aspects inside the unitized drive cylinders - one goes bad, plug in another - but I'd also have to look at where and how much weight/pressure is being applied at different points. I can imagine a version looking more like a spoon/shovel, with a wide front and narrow back.

I don't like cold weather at all, but I do like innovative gadgets, so bravo and good luck.

Dan Lewis
26th April, 2013 @ 11:33 am PDT

This makes me sad. It's as dumb as the "photovoltaic highway" idea.

How much horsepower does it take to push you up a mountain?

How much horsepower can the batteries store?

Yeah. {sigh}.

William Carr
27th April, 2013 @ 08:08 pm PDT

and this is all kinds of neat until you get caught in the augers and chewed to bits... mmm hmmm

Jesse Gunn
3rd May, 2013 @ 09:31 pm PDT

Just caught this thread. Very interesting. I think there's a long way to go in terms of engineering to achieve your design objective. I'm building a similar size model for a completely different task associated with mining. I'm having trouble getting the screw thread right. How did you construct you one?

aajay
26th February, 2014 @ 08:57 pm PST
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