Glowforge 500 (Exploring Physics with Gravity Racers)

By Glowforge

Challenge: Create the fastest miniature racer.

Race towards the finish line with a custom, Glowforge-made derby car. You’ll use what you know about manufacturing and applied physics to compete against your classmates in gravity-powered races. In this challenge, you’ll research new manufacturing processes, maximize the function and aesthetic appeal of your car, and refine your racer’s performance through a continuous improvement cycle.

Facilitation Guide


Deceptively simple, gravity-powered racers are a perfect introduction to manufacturing and production. In races that come down to milliseconds, every design detail means the difference between triumph and defeat.

Manufacturers increasingly use 2D and 3D print technology to develop innovative solutions for their consumer’s needs. Glowforge’s ability to cut, engrave, and score a range of materials into full products or individual product components makes it an ideal solution for this kind of creative manufacturing.

No matter what type of gravity racer you create, their performance depends on manufacturing, math, and science. This challenge lets you develop and refine your own racer, as well as take a peek “under the hood” at the heavy-duty physics at work in these cars.


In this section, you’ll research strategies and techniques to help improve your racer. Above all else, your miniature racer’s success comes down to understanding how to use the production process to design, test, and correct your racer’s performance and aesthetic appeal. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • What are some examples of gravity-powered racers? Check out these two races for inspiration: Pinewood and Soap Box derbies.
  • What factors affect a racer’s speed and performance? Are there design elements you frequently see in racers that could impact speed or performance? Take some time to explore How to Use Science to Build the Fastest Racer for ideas on how to maximize your racer’s speed.
  • How could the shape, slope, and size of the race track impact your racer?
  • Are there weight, size, or material requirements that you need to follow for your racer? Manufacturers receive detailed specifications by their customers that must be followed. Similarly, your class may have detailed specifications for race day that you’ll need to consider throughout the design process.
  • How can you add personality to your racer? Consider how any customizations could impact your racer’s speed and performance.

Explore Tip

Strategically adding mass to certain parts of your racer can be a key to success, but there are lots of other factors that can impact speed. Watch this video for six other scientifically proven factors that can improve your racer’s performance.

Reflect and Review

Take a moment to reflect on the research you did for your racer design.

  • What did you learn about making a fast racer?
  • What manufacturing techniques or design elements will you use to create your racer?

Are there any other resources or techniques that would be helpful to explore before moving on? In the next stage you’ll brainstorm the design of your racer for the most effective performance and visual design.


Brainstorm and experiment with different manufacturing techniques and design ideas for your racer. Many of the examples that you looked at during the Explore stage focused on two common forms of gravity-driven racing: Pinewood and Soap Box derbies. The manufacturing and science behind these races can help you win the checkered flag, but remember to consider your class’s specifications for the race, which may differ from other gravity races. You don’t need to worry about whether your ideas are good or bad — just get creative and think about how to speed up your racer! Here are some things to consider:

  • What techniques will you use to speed up your racer? Will you need to adapt your approach based on the race track or design specifications for your race?
  • What materials will you use for your racer? How will your choice of materials impact the racer’s speed, durability, and mass?
  • How do you plan to customize your design? How can you add personality or creativity?
  • How might your customizations impact the performance of your racer?
  • A peer might have an idea that works well with yours — collaborate to make both of your ideas even better.

Ideate Tip

Did you know that most people pick a car based on its exterior design? Appearance matters for both traditional cars and gravity racers. Check out the famous Portland Soapbox Derby or Pinewood Derby to see examples of creative racers. Learn how you can have a unique design and roll to victory!

Reflect and Review

At this point, you probably have many ideas for your racer. Take a moment to reflect on the techniques and ideas you brainstormed.

  • Are any of your ideas similar? Can you group them together?
  • Do any of your ideas stand out as favorites? Which ideas might you disregard?

In the next stage, you’ll narrow down your ideas to one or two racers. Consider if there is anything else you want to brainstorm before moving on.


Review the ideas you brainstormed and select one or two that you would like to turn into sketches or digital mockups. Consider the following:

  • Be sure to consider any requirements to ensure that your racer qualifies on race day.

  • What tools and materials do you need to develop your design idea(s) using your Glowforge?

  • What software tools can you use, in addition to the Glowforge App, to help you model your racer? Can you use CAD software like SketchUp or AutoCAD to help you model in 3D?

  • Consider using MakerCase to create custom racer designs that you can import into the Glowforge App.

  • How might you include visual elements like text, symbols, fonts, and color to customize your racer?

  • Where is your racer’s center of mass? How can you add weight to your racer?

  • How can using Glowforge make your racer faster? Consider how your design will impact your racer’s assembly and performance.

Design Tip

In his work on the impact of physics on the Pinewood Derby, Dr. Scott Acton determined that a racer’s center of mass has the largest impact on speed. To help speed up your racer, figure out where its center of mass is and add weight as close as possible.

Reflect and Review

Now that you have spent time developing your racer, take a moment to reflect on the progress of your design.

  • How does your racer incorporate manufacturing concepts or techniques that will help it speed down a track?
  • Does your design include artistic or aesthetic customizations that add personality to your racer?

You’re almost ready to create your racer! Consider if there is anything you’d like to change in your design before you start creating.


Select one of your fully developed designs. Using Glowforge, print a prototype of your racer using appropriate materials. Consider the following:

  • What material(s) will you use for your racer?
  • How long will your racer take to create and assemble?
  • How might you customize your racer prototype once it’s created? Consider how you might add character or flair to your design.
  • Does your racer meet the race specifications? If not, review your design and make adjustments in a timely manner.
  • How fast is your racer? Once assembled, test your prototype on the race track. Look for areas where you can improve performance.
  • How do the materials, aesthetic design, or assembly choices impact your racer’s performance? Make any necessary changes to your racer or assembly process before moving to the next step.

Prototype Tip

Create a simple log for each of your test runs down the track. This will help you record the adjustments that you made to your racer alongside the results of your tests. Consider keeping track of the following items:

  • Test number
  • Speed
  • Adjustments made
  • Other observations
  • Proposed changes to improve your racer

Reflect and Review

Think about the prototypes you created and tested during this stage.

  • What do you notice about the techniques you used to improve the performance of your racer?
  • How did your racer’s materials and assembly impact its speed?
  • Is there anything you want to revisit about your design?


After creating, testing, and refining your prototype, it’s time to get some feedback. Here are some sample questions to ask your peers so you can get actionable feedback:

  • Is the final design creative? How could the visual aspects of the racer be improved?
  • Does the racer move as you planned?
  • How did your use of digital tools enhance your racer?
  • How can you further improve and refine your design to maximize its speed and performance?

Evaluate Tip

Think about the different ways you can highlight your unique racer. Do you want to show off your racer’s style? What about its speed and agility? Consider planning a demonstration for your peers. Think about specific questions you can ask to get feedback on these aspects of your racer.

Reflect and Review

Reflect on the feedback you received from others.

  • What aspects of your racer do you need to revisit or adjust?
  • Are there stages in the design process that you would like to return to in order to make these adjustments?

Once you have completed and finalized your racer, it’s time to start the race and compete against your classmates!

Share your students' creations on social media! Post your photos and use the hashtag #GlowforgeEDU and tag us @glowforge for the chance to be featured.