Rat power harnessed

20:33, Oct 15 2013
Rat Powered Bike
BIG ENTRANCE: Alessandra rides her rat-powered bike into the grounds of Diocesan School for Girls.

Do you hear the pitter patter of many tiny feet? It could be Alessandra Wilton on her bicycle.

The 10-year-old designed a rat-powered bike for a children's television programme.

She was selected to test her idea in front of the cameras and can't wait to see it on screen next month.

Rat Powered Bike
FURRY FRIENDS: Above Alessandra Wilton with Diocesan School for Girls principal Heather McRae and some of the 19 specially trained rats.

The Diocesan student was inspired to submit a video entry to Let's Get Inventin' after the show's producer Luke Nola came to talk to her class about inventions and the use of alternative energy.

Alessandra pondered using hamsters or guinea pigs but settled on rats because they are more readily available.

The 19 rodents were trained by animal psychologist Mark Vette who also trained SPCA dogs to drive cars.


The rats were taught to run through a giant tube which powered the specially adapted bicycle.

As the rats came down they pushed the wheel forward, much like a water wheel, Alessandra's mother Fenella Wilton says.

The design took quite a bit of fine tuning.

When it was finally ready to be put to the test, Alessandra met the television crew down at Mission Bay at 8am.

They did a couple of test runs before making the 8km journey to school in Epsom.

People stopped to watch the spectacle as she rode along Tamaki Drive.

By lunchtime Alessandra was riding her rat bike into the school grounds where a crowd of students had gathered to cheer her on.

"It was really cool because all my friends could see me riding my awesome bike," Alessandra says.

The Meadowbank resident's no stranger to being in front of the camera.

She has appeared in commercials and an episode of Super City.

Acting is one of several possible career options she's weighing up.

"I'd like to be a vet because I really like animals but if that doesn't work out I'll either be an artist or an actor."

Mrs Wilton says her daughter always has a project on the go.

"I'm very proud of her.

"I remember when she came up with the idea. I thought it was crazy so I was really surprised when they rang to say she had won."

The invention will feature in one of nine episodes to be screened in October and November.

The overall winning entry will be announced in the 10th episode and will be patented.

Another Diocesan student, Phebe Mason of Remuera, features in one of the episodes.

Her idea was to power an escalator by harnessing the energy produced by athletes on stationary bicycles and rowing machines (East & Bays Courier, May 5).

East And Bays Courier