So they held a contest, offering $5,000 to the person or team who could come up with the best design. The winner, the Lane Rover, came from Gaetan Vich of Goshen, Ind., and his team Science Friction.

The battery-powered device pulls a sled attached to a beam-type load cell. The sled is made of the same material as bowling balls and weighs 0.5 kg, Its leading edge is rounded to ensure small irregularities in the lane don’t stop it or overload the load cell. A PDA attached to the Rover through a USB port records signals from the load cell. Software on the PDA lets users read out static and dynamic COFs. For traction, each of Rover’s four wheels has its own gearmotor running at 83 rpm. This gives it a speed of 14.6 m/min. A 12-Vdc battery powers the motors. The entire device, including PDA and battery charger, weighs about 17.5 lb. It’s estimated the device will cost $3,000, a figure that could come down as more Rovers are made.