The skills that students are practicing in related rates problems are:

1. Differentiating a known equation implicitly with respect to time.

2. Interpreting the time derivative of a quantity as a rate of change.

The main reason that related rates problems feel so contrived is that calculus books do not want to assume that the students are familiar with any of the equations of science or economics. Every related rates problem inherently involves differentiating a known equation, and the only equations that the calculus book assumes are the equations of geometry.

Thus, you can find related rates problems involving various area and volume formulas, related rates problems involving the Pythagorean Theorem or similar triangles, related rates problems involving triangle trigonometry, and so forth. A few of these problems are compelling -- for example, computing the speed of an airplane based on ground observations of its altitude and apparent angular velocity -- but most of them do feel a bit contrived.

The reality, of course, is that students are familiar with many of the basic equations and concepts of science and economics, and there's no rule against using these in problems. For example, you can make up all sorts of compelling related rates problems by starting with any physics or chemistry equation and imagining a situation where you might want to take its derivative:

1. The kinetic energy of an object is $K = \frac{1}{2}mv^2$. If the object is accelerating at a rate of $9.8 \text{m}/\text{s}^2$, how fast is the kinetic energy increasing when the speed is $30 \;\text{m}/\text{s}$?

2. An ideal gas satisfies $PV = nRT$, where $n$ is the number of moles and $R \approx 8.314\;\; \text{J}\; \text{mol}^{-1} \text{K}^{-1}$. Give the rate at which the temperature and volume of the gas are increasing, and then ask about the rate of change in pressure when the volume and temperature reach certain amounts.

3. The total energy stored in a capacitor is $\frac{1}{2} Q^2 / C$, where $Q$ is the amount of charge stored in the capacitor and $C$ is the capacitance. Give the value of $C$ and the rate at which $Q$ is decreasing, and ask about the rate at which the capacitor is losing energy when the energy is a certain amount.

4. In astronomy, the absolute magnitude $M$ of a star is related to its luminosity $L$ by the formula $$M \;=\; M_{\text{sun}} -\; 2.5\; \log_{10}(L/L_{\text{sun}}).$$ where $M_{\text{sun}} = 4.75$ and $L_{\text{sun}} = 3.839 \times 10^{26} \text{watts}$. (Note that, by convention, brighter stars have lower magnitude.) If the absolute magnitude of a variable star is decreasing at a rate of $0.09 / \text{week}$, how quickly is the luminosity of the star increasing when the magnitude is $3.8$?

It's easy to make these up: just think of any equation in science or economics whose derivative might be interesting. Wikipedia and/or science textbooks can be helpful for finding equations from a wide variety of fields.