Skip to main content

Hot Wheels Racing with PocketLab

Profile picture for user PocketLab
Submitted by PocketLab on Wed, 01/31/2018 - 18:45

Engage your students in engineering practices and classic force and motion and energy concepts in a fun and unique way. With a PocketLab attached to a Hot Wheels car and a track full of magnets, you'll be able to collect data on position, velocity, acceleration, and energy as your car zips up an over hills and around loops. Turn your students into theme park engineers and have them design "roller coaster" tracks, iterate on car designs for races, or teach basic concepts on position and velocity. This activity is sure to help engage your students in a meaningful way. 

Follow this link for the set-up details as Google Slide Show. 

NGSS Alignment: MS-PS3-1

The disciplinary core idea behind this standard is PS3.A: Definitions of Energy and PS3.C: Relationship Between Energy and Forces. In Definitions of Energy, it specifically looks at the concept that energy can be stored in an object (potential energy) and that the amount of energy stored can depend on the relative position of the object (e.g. gravitational potential energy). In Relationship Between Energy and Forces, it specifically looks at how energy can be transferred from one object to another when one of those objects exerts a force on the other object. Building a roller coaster and collecting data with a PocketLab is a great way to investigate these concepts. By measuring the height at various locations across the roller coaster the gravitational potential energy can be calculated (PS3.A). By measuring the speed of the roller coaster at different locations (using PocketLab and magnetic timing gates) the kinetic energy can be calculated. Using the Science and Engineering Practice, Developing and Using Models, students can construct a model to then predict the thermal energy caused by the force of friction between the track and the cart (PS3.C). Understanding how the roller coaster moves through the entire track and how the potential, kinetic, and thermal energy changes will help students in the Crosscutting Concept, Systems and System Models. In the end, diagraming the entire roller coaster and showing the changing energy levels based on the collected data and the various energy equations will give students a clear understanding of the standard. 

MS-PS2-2: Develop a model to describe that when the arrangement of objects interacting at a distance changes, different amounts of potential energy are stored in the system. 

The standard is broken down into the three NGSS pillars below:
Science and Engineering Practices - Science and Engineering Practices
Disciplinary Core Ideas - PS3.A Definitions of Energy and PS3.C: Relationship Between Energy and Forces
Crosscutting Concepts - Systems and System Models



1. Experiment with potential and kinetic energy conservation

2. Hands-on experiment to measure position, velocity, and race times

3. Convert Gate Times to speed and kinetic energy measurements


Example Results


Supplies Needed

-PocketLab Voyager -!/PocketLab-Voyager/p/79012257/category=24480207 

-Hot Wheels Track and Car-

-Magnets (10 mm diameter)-

-Command Velcro Strips-

-Hot Glue or Quick Set Epoxy


Optional Supplies

3D Printed Track Connector.

File for single connector:


File for double connector:



Track Connector - Install magnets in bottom to act as timing gates

Hot Wheels Track Connector



3D Printed Track Connector




1. Place magnetic track connectors every two sections to act as timing gates

2. Construct track to your unique design

3. Attach a Command Velcro strip to the Hot Wheels car and the PocketLab Voyager sensor

4. Connect the PocketLab Voyager to the PocketLab App

5. Select Magnetic Field Magnitude from the Graph Options

6. Set the data rate to 50 samples/sec

7. You're now ready to race


Manually extracting gate times from the graph data is easy in the app


Race Time Calculator Spreadsheet

The spreadsheet automatically extracts Gate Times and calculates Time Splits and Average Speeds. Follow this link to the spreadsheet:

Example data: 


Extension - Design and make your own cars with 3D printing and compare race times and speed.