People of MECHA: Dr Eva Hakansson

Outside of your career, what else do you enjoy doing in your free time?

The beauty of doing something you love is there is no boundary between “career” and “free time”.  I am at my happiest when I am creating a new design, or building something I have designed. Why would I want “time off” from happiness? Seriously.

When was the moment you realised you could potentially break a world record? 

Electric vehicle records are somewhat easy to break. There aren’t that many people competing (yet) and if you pick a category where there happens to be no record, (or a very slow record) then you just have to make a decent run down the course and you have a world record. Overall records are a different story. You are then running “head-to-head” against a mature technology, with a century of very clever and talented folks, many with very deep pockets, and the completion get significantly harder.

When Li-Ion batteries came on the scene, however, any race that lasts more than 10 seconds, but less than 10 minutes, could be won with an electric powered vehicle. All you need is the knowledge to design and build a decent vehicle, plus the budget to buy the components. A simple “back of the envelope” calculation shows you that the power-to-weight ratio of an electric drive train tops a conventional internal combustion (petrol) engine by a wide margin.

We held the overall motorcycle sidecar land speed record for several years. It was 360 km/h for some time. We broke that record in 2014, moving the mark to 387 km/h, and then 434 km/h later that year. We realized it was low hanging fruit for some time before that. We just had to gather the budget and components to make it happen.

The overall motorcycle record will be a whole different battle. It is currently at 605 km/h, and while we think my new 1,000 horsepower streamliner motorcycle Green Envy has the power to beat it, the planets have to line up for it to happen. I expect it to take several years and multiple attempts to get there. The planned debut was this year, but all races were unfortunately cancelled due to the pandemic. The good news is that I have another year making it even faster.


To develop your motorcycles, what inspiration did you draw from other people’s work?

You never start with a blank page. As a good engineer, you survey what solutions have worked well, and what solutions have not worked well, before you even put pencil to paper. I studied every land speed streamliner motorcycle I could find. There are not all that many. Perhaps 100 in history? There is no book about “How to build a land speed motorcycle” unfortunately.

If I were to pick one motorcycle that had the most influence on the design of the KillaJoule and the Green Envy, I would say that Mike Akatiff’s “Ack Attack” most closely resembles my vehicle. The Ack Attack holds the top speed of all motorcycles, so it is a proven design and an obvious choice to imitate. Mike Akatiff and his driver Rocky Robinson have been very helpful to us and have always been more than happy to give advice and share information.

What’re your views on the current state of the environment and how engineering students can begin to address it?

We have tons of challenges ahead of us, and engineers will play an instrumental role. I always say that engineers are superheroes, and we really are. Singers and rugby players aren’t going to save the planet, engineers are!

Being an engineering student is a great position to be in, and I sometimes wish I was a student again. You have the opportunity to learn the latest technology as well as absorbing all the accumulated knowledge of mankind. With regards to sustainability, you can integrate sustainability aspects in pretty much every assignment if you want to (any sensible lecturer will very appreciate that ;-)

I have lately spent a lot of time trying to find ways to decrease the incredible waste we see in the world. I am myself guilty of using quite a bit of plastics for 3D printing, and I want better alternatives. While recycling certainly isn’t a silver bullet, we would be a whole lot better off if we could use recycled plastics for applications such as 3D printing. One of our lockdown activities has been to design a 3D printing filament extruder based on existing open source designs. I can’t wait for the remaining components to arrive so we can start making our own 3D printing filament. That would make Green Envy even more “green”. 

Outside of your engineering projects, what has been your biggest challenge? 

Of course, there never seems to be enough time to do everything that I would like to do. However, while I have been fortunate to have some loyal sponsors to help, “chasing money” is something I am not very good at. At least it feels that way. If we even had a slightly bigger budget, we could go a lot faster. 

Do you have any advice for teenage girls who are on the fence about studying engineering? 

Go for it! There is absolutely nothing to lose. As an engineer, you can work in pretty much any field. Health care, aerospace, agriculture, manufacturing, teaching, fashion design. You name it, there will be an engineering position! In the unlikely event that you realise that you really, really don’t want to do engineering, you can always change track. In fact, any university degree that involves a significant amount of maths lets you quite easily switch tracks.

I truly enjoyed engineering school, even if it was hard work. If I were to do it all over again, I would spend even more time working on my maths skills before my first semester started. Make sure your algebra and trigonometry is fresh in memory. If you can’t draw the unit circle in your sleep, you need to go to and brush it up (I used Khan Academy myself to prepare for several of my maths classes, it helped a lot). Having a strong foundation in maths will make you sail through all the other engineering topics!

With all your travelling experience, what would you say is your favourite place in the world? That’s easy – New Zealand! No joke. With a PhD in Mechanical Engineering I could get a job in pretty much any country, but my husband Bill Dubé and I chose New Zealand. We love the nature, the climate, the ingenuity, but most of all, we love the people! The kiwis must be the nicest people on the planet. We have never felt so welcomed anywhere else. We are definitely here to stay!