Student Reflection - May 1, 2013
When you ask a group of students to design a device to achieve maximum range, in a college that focuses heavily on aerospace engineering and aviation, you are bound to get a fleet of fixed-wing gliders. So, naturally, we designed a zip-line.
As my teammates and I waited for the competition guidelines to be unveiled, the anticipation for the event was high. This was to be the last innovation challenge of the semester, and the stakes had never been higher. Not only was the event highly-publicized, with sponsors from Red Bull present and free food and drinks, but the winner of the competition would also travel to Chicago to represent SLU and Parks College in the famous Red Bull Flugtag event. Needless to say, I wanted to win. I came into the event fully prepared to draw upon my aerospace engineering background to meet whatever challenge was thrown my way. However, little did I know that stretching beyond my conventional aerospace background would be key to placing third in the competition.
When the hosts announced that our team was going to design a device to launch off the rotunda balcony for maximum distance, my thoughts immediately went to my introduction to aeronautics and astronautics course, where I had been required to design a glider that would maximize range. Then the grading criteria were announced: distance, creativity, and showmanship. Still stuck in my initial flashback to my introductory course in engineering, I brainstormed ways that I could make a “creative” glider and develop some sort of flashy skit to generate hype for the launch. After a few moments, I realized that I was thinking about it all wrong.
While the obvious response to the challenge would be a fixed-wing glider, the problem with that design was that it was, simply, too obvious—the design would not stick out among the many other glider designs that were bound to emerge. This would be problematic in achieving the other equally- weighted aspects of our final score, creativity and showmanship. Realizing that the groups around me, consisting largely of engineering students, likely would elect to tailor a design toward the more performance-driven category of distance, I proposed the idea of focusing on the remaining two categories which were inherently more subjective. With a design that deviated from the norm, focused primarily on creativity and showmanship, our likelihood of winning the competition would become much greater.
After a quick assessment of the building materials available to us, specifically wire, straws, bandanas, tape, and Red Bull, we came up with the idea of a creating a zip-line device. Acknowledging the fact that the zip-line concept would not be capable of the extended range achievable with a glider, our group determined that an acceptable distance would still be attainable with minimal effort spent, thereby allowing us to focus our time on tailoring the design to excel in the creativity and showmanship requirements. Gradually, the proposed zip-line concept adopted a Red Bull rodeo theme.
Our design consisted of a straw cowboy that would ride a Red Bull “rocket” down a straw-and- wire zip-line. All of the members of our group constructed matching cardboard cowboy hats and bandanas, including miniature versions for our straw-made western rider. We secured a straw tube on top of a full Red Bull can with duct tape, so that there would be sufficient weight to encourage the rider down the zip-line, and then we wrapped the shell of an empty Red Bull can around the structure to preserve the original aesthetics. Next, a “brown leather” saddle was created using a paper bag, in an effort to prevent chaffing of the cowboy and provide for a more enjoyable riding experience. With putty, we gave the man a pair of boots, complete with spurs, and secured him to his aluminum bronco with masking tape. After bending our straw friend’s limbs into a more realistic rodeo pose, we hot-glued his miniature cardboard hat to his plastic arm, so that he would not lose it during the decent. As a final touch, a stretched wad of cotton was hot-glued to the rear of the Red Bull can to simulate exhaust gases.
With the manufacturing process out of the way, we elected to test the design with a small section of wire to make sure that our rider actually would make it to the bottom of the balcony in one piece. However, we quickly discovered the wire would cut through exposed pieces of straw as gravity carried the weight to the ground. With this in mind, the exposed pieces of the straw attachment were removed so that only the section that was reinforced with duct tape would interact with the wire. After a few tests, this proved to be an effective fix, especially given the small amount of time left to build.
As the teams were ushered up the steps, we had one of our teammates hide in the stairwell leading to the basement. The plan was to alert the teammate when it was our time to launch by shouting “Ca-caaw! Ca-caaw!” At that signal, he would emerge from hiding, catch the coil of wire that we would drop to him, unwind the coil to the length of the rotunda, and prepare to be reunited with our cowboy friend that would ride down the zip-line on his Red Bull bronco-rocket.
Unfortunately, things did not go entirely as planned. First, the wire coil snagged while being dropped to our teammate, resulting in the entire coil falling down, including the lead that was supposed to fit through the straw. This interrupted the flow of our launch and really hurt the seamless show that we were hoping would “wow” our audience. Eventually, we managed to get the wire lead back up the stairs to our patient, but slightly-flustered, straw cowboy. We then proceeded to launch the cowboy down the zip-line, and, at first, it looked like it was going to be a success. However, half-way down the zip-line, the straw caught on the wire, cutting the line in two. To our dismay, the cowboy dropped at only half of the distance that we were hoping to cover.
While the execution of our zip-line design did not go entirely to plan, we still managed to walk away with third place due to the unique design. Despite not winning, I left the competition feeling accomplished, as I learned quite a few lessons from my participation in my innovation team. First, I learned that the obvious design is not always the best design, and that a person’s background may influence a design but should not limit the design. By critically analyzing project requirements and brainstorming ideas with a team comprised of diverse backgrounds, a unique and innovative product can be developed. Next, I learned the value of considering competition when developing an innovative product. In order to develop a product that will stick out from that of your competitors, the molds that constrain standard designs should be challenged. We were able to demonstrate this by replacing a fixed- wing glider concept with that of a zip-line, which proved to be very successful choice, overall. I also learned the value of designing to meet all requirements and to not over-emphasize some requirements over others. For example, by not designing primarily for distance, my team was able to capitalize on the two, somewhat overlapping, design requirements of creativity and showmanship that were not overly emphasized in other designs.
The disappointments in the execution of the design also led to learning experiences. While the device was successfully tested with a short wire, the system had never been proven on a larger scale. Therefore, a more extensive testing plan would have been beneficial, as the actual implementation of the design was relatively complex. Unlike the simplistic launch of throwing a glider from a balcony, the multi-step show involved with the zip-line included many untested “moving parts,” that ultimately led to the system’s failure. If a large-scale test had been conducted, these difficulties would likely have been overcome.
Ultimately, the innovation challenge was a great opportunity to collaborate with a team of students across various disciplines to develop a unique design—all while having fun! Amidst triumphs and failures, the competition offered many lessons that translate beyond this week’s challenge. Although my team did not earn first place, as I had hoped going into the competition, I left with a great experience and look forward to competing again next semester!
Winning Reflection - Parry Draper
Student Reflection - April 24, 2013
This week’s competition provided an excellent, hands on experience with a problem faced far too often by castaways lost at sea. Losing ones marbles can be a traumatic experience for anyone. Our team coming into the challenge was quite diverse consisting
of an environmental science major, an accounting/finance major, and myself an aerospace engineering major.
Initially we were confident upon realizing the challenge and were certain that our design would compete well. We went for simplicity by creating a stable platform for the cup to rest on two glued water bottles. Considering the possibility that our craft was slightly
unstable we set out to find a way to create more balance. Our first attempt, adding water to the bottles, was unsuccessful. Then we attached another bottle as a ballast for rough waves. We thought that the ballast would counteract any tilting within the box of water; however we needed another way to keep the nose of our vessel slightly raised up out of the water. Thinking quickly, the environmental scientist presented an ingenious idea. According to him we could use an upside down cup filled with ping-pong balls to act as the counter balance. It worked fabulously and solved our slight tilting problem. We determined that our wave conquering cruiser would perform well in the competition.
Many other teams had great designs as well, causing us to become slightly nervous. As we viewed other teams attempts to solve the similar problems we had faced, it dawned on us that there were many ways to address the same issues. Some teams used radiating spokes attached to balloons and others cups filled with balloons to balance in the harsh waves. Both of these ideas provided the craft with added stability, and yet both teams struggled to keep any marbles on their cups.
Like many others we decided to use two people carrying the box of water rather than one. We decided it would provide more control and less rocking within the box. As it turns out, we were right. A similarly designed craft to ours failed when one person carried it; however we managed to make it across the finish line in less than 6 seconds with 2 marbles left. We realized that we hadn’t won however we had produced the fastest successful time at 5.1 seconds. When we were discussing what had caused the marble to fall, it was determined that pressure to finish quickly as well as a sudden burst of speed towards the end resulted in a little more rocking than we had accounted for in our design.
In conclusion, our team performed better than we had expected and had we kept level heads (as well as a level raft) we probably could have won. We worked well together and no one took control and rejected anyone else’s ideas. Flexibility was key in how we
sculpted our craft and, although we lost, we successfully made it across the finish line with marbles remaining on our cup. Therefore, I believe our group succeeded in the challenge and showed that diversity is key in innovation.
Winning Reflection - James Shields
Student Reflection - April 17, 2013
Every time I compete, the Weekly Innovation Challenge provides a great opportunity to work with people from all different disciplines. Usually, the challenges require us to pool our knowledge and creativity to accomplish whatever task is presented. Going into the challenge, I felt confident that among my team of a biomedical engineering major, a business major, and me, a biochemistry major, we would have the knowledge to address any problem we would have to solve.
Instead of combining our knowledge, the Minute to Win It Challenge required us to examine our own individual skills. For the challenge, four stations were set up with unrelated activities. At the first station, team members had to balance 6 dice on a popsicle stick held by one teammate’s mouth. The next station required one team member to remove all the cards except the bottom joker from a deck balanced on a water bottle by blowing air at them. The third station had an individual juggle three large balloons in the air without letting any fall. Finally, the fourth station required a teammate to transfer one silver cup from the bottom to the top of a large stack of cups by moving the upper cups to the bottom of the stack one by one. Additionally, they could only use one hand at a time and were required to alternate between left and right hands for each new cup. These tasks might not have seemed too daunting if only there was no catch: the one-minute time limit.
For the dice challenge, my most balanced teammate and I quickly worked together to beat the event. As the engineer in the group, he realized that he could provide more stability to the popsicle stick by leaning on the table. Once that was accomplished, I quickly stacked the dice with most of our minute still remaining. The second challenge would not be so easy. Among my teammates, I was uniquely qualified by being a trumpet player in the Billiken Pep Band. I had no trouble controlling the airflow to knock off the top of the card stack, but the difficulty increased as the number of cards decreased. During our short practice session, I carefully puffed one card after another until only the Joker remained. My luck did not hold for the timed trial. Down to three cards with 25 seconds left, the cards toppled, and we reset the stack. As I hurried to begin the challenge anew, a balloon from the next event whizzed by, breaking my concentration. I was unsuccessful, but no other group accomplished the task either.
As we practiced for the balloon juggling event, the engineer again seemed the most capable for the task. Even though he did not keep the balloons in the air for the full minute during our practice runs, he shined during the actual trial. Even when a few of the balloons started to drift away, he kept a cool head and stayed light on his feet for most of the minute. He may have been on the floor, frantically hitting them in the last ten seconds, but our team ultimately succeeded at that task.
We began practicing the cup-stacking event, and I realized that I am nowhere near ambidextrous. I would be unable to do the challenge. As my two teammates continued, we saw that our business major teammate was, by far, the fastest. Of the massive stack of cups to get through, she came within 5 or so as time expired, a close loss. We were surprised to learn that one team had succeeded, winning the entire competition as a result.
Although my team came in second place, the event was a good learning experience. While every Weekly Innovation Challenge shows that one can never anticipate problems and results, this challenge demonstrated that everyone has the potential to make unique contributions to the group. Even though our different courses of study did not enter into the outcome of the events, it was our personal skill sets and strengths that really mattered.
Winning Reflection - Steve Doonan
Student Reflection - April 10, 2013
It’s not every day that someone gets to experience life while deprived of one or more senses… that is why today was pretty extraordinary for me. Normally, I am fairly confident that I could identify whether someone is cracking an egg or chopping onions. It is also a fairly easy task for me to determine whether a door is attached to a house or to a car. This considered, I found my inability to quickly and easily identify such situations during today’s challenge quite frustrating. Through being forced to identify situations based on sound alone, I was presented with scenarios that, at times, I was unprepared to identify. In one example, I was sure that the sound I heard was from a train bell, rather than the clinking of campaign glasses together. In another, I was positive that the clicking noise that I heard was from typing, rather than from taking someone’s blood pressure. In both cases, my confidence proved false.
It is funny to think how just a little bit of context can transform your perception of the world. Obviously, had I been at a wedding or in a hospital when I had heard the aforementioned sounds, I am sure that I never would have made the conclusions that I had. Even something as subtle as having smelled food or heard doctors in the background would have greatly influenced how I had identified the sounds. In retrospect, I simply did not appreciate how hard it would be to perceive something without context – whether it had been garnished from my situation, my sight, or my other senses.
From this challenge, I once again find that I learned an unexpected lesson: Context is very important. As I found out today, context – even when garnished from the most insignificant detail – can pretty significantly change how you perceive the world around you.
Winning Reflection - Matthew Coon
Student Reflection - April 3, 2013
I am a neuroscience major on the pre-med track, not an engineer. What does the weekly challenge have to do with what I am studying? This thought echoed through my mind each week when I listened to my friends talk up their experiences during the weekly innovation challenges. I finally gave it a chance this week as I participated in the challenge for the first time. It quickly became apparent that my preconceived notions about the WIC were way off base. Teams were not built around engineers, but instead around a diversity of backgrounds. In fact, this theme of breaking down perceptions permeated my experience with this challenge. My experience this week has led me to the realization that in order to think outside the box while seeking innovation, it is important to recognize what that box is. Without identifying what is holding you back, it is hard to address these roadblocks. My box was having underlying assumptions about the challenge. Once I realized this, I was able to recognize that I had ideas to offer, as well as things to learn from participating in the WIC.
In today’s challenge, our group was tasked to market an up and coming technology. This required our group to think about various applications of self-healing technologies in a holistic manner. We addressed the logistics of how these products work, as well as the economic, social and environmental implications that arise from this technology. In line with the philosophy of WIC, our team aimed to integrate our own experiences and backgrounds into the marketing of this product. The methodology used in this challenge of approaching problems in a holistic manner while contemplating the micro and macro consequences of ideas can be applied in any situation. The synthesis of ideas from various fields and points of view is truly learning and innovation because innovation comes from the synthesis of ideas in ways that were never before conceived. I now look forward to participating in this competition in the future as a fun and engaging way of learning about myself, others and how to manage the challenges that arise in the world around us, and within the interactions between those striving to change the problems.
Winning Reflection - Ted Stewart-Hester
Student Reflection - March 27, 2013
My experience with this week’s Innovation Challenge entitled Implosions, could very easily been just that, a complete inward breakdown. This was my first WIC, and I honestly did not know what to expect. I was definitely excited to work with teammates to complete an assigned task within one hour. Given that my majors in environmental science and international studies have taught me little about structural design or practical physics, I was worried about my potential to contribute to my team. Furthermore, I came into the challenge without having a set team. Working with two strangers can be daunting given the extra pressure of time constraints and the incentive of a monetary prize. Despite my reservations, I decided to give the weekly innovation challenge a try, and I am so glad that I did.
To start off with, my two teammates, Manuel and Prince were wonderful to work with. After quick introductions, we started discussing possible designs and evaluating them based on practicality. Everyone was given a voice, and all of our input was taken into consideration when we came up with a final design. We then delegated tasks for the building process. Unfortunately, our group did not finish building our structure, so we did not test our model. Yes my group did technically fail the challenge, but I am not walking away a loser. I learned how to communicate with people who were previously strangers. Not only will this help me in the realm of academia, but also in the real world. Specialists from different fields are often brought together to solve a significant problem. If we cannot communicate, then despite the best of intentions and ideas, we limit the scope of what we can accomplish.
Furthermore, I learned that even if the end result does not work as intended, that the experience can still be valuable. Being able to practice creative problem solving allows you to be prepared for other potential challenges. Even if our structure did not make the cut, this experience was far from an implosion. I liken it to a skyscraper since it helped me establish valuable foundational skills so that I can soar to new heights.
Winning Reflection - Maya Rao
Student Reflection - March 20, 2013
In today’s challenge my teammates and I were admittedly a little bit surprised, we looked at each other, and definitely none of us looked like farmers or agricultural experts. An accounting/finance major, I was hoping that my teammates who are actually studying in the College or Arts and Science and in Parks College would have a better idea of what steps should be taken, but seeing the surprise in their eyes my hopes were shut down. This would not be a one-person effort; we would have to pool our knowledge together and work as a team!
With the supplies that we were given we were supposed to create an indoor prototype of a 3x4 garden using straws, paper, markers, and tape. Knowing that our time was limited we quickly decided to the best of our knowledge what necessities are implied with the words fancy indoor garden. Quickly we decided that irrigation, lighting, and style were all important factors for our potential customers. With these three concepts we were able to create a standard looking greenhouse with many extra perks such as hexagonal 360 degree watering sprinkler system that would be able to collect water from the bottom of the house to avoid waste while dispersing evenly throughout the whole area, and we included lights that would be able to illuminate the whole area, with reflective walls to maximize the lighting inside the chamber while not impacting the lighting in the house, as to not make the garden another uncomfortable and large in-home appliance.
I believe that although the green idea was incorporated in our project, one piece that we were missing can actually be found in the previous paragraph, “standard looking greenhouse”. Somewhere in our construction we completely forgot about the third concept we needed to incorporate in the garden, style. In the case of this project, although the ideas were there the design was lacking. In order to be innovative, you cannot be standard, and when I saw the winning project, it was in the shape of a bookshelf. This bookshelf style would definitely be a lot more pleasing to the eye.
I believe that doing this challenge pushes me to be creative and work together with a team, and for me, with every challenge comes a little more ambition, and I hope that one-week these skills and emotions that I gained from these challenges will pay off with a victory in the innovation challenge arena; more importantly I hope, and I know that some day, I will need to think like an innovator, and in truth by practicing at these challenges, someday I will successfully do so, and that day will mark one of my greatest victories.
Winning Reflection - Matthew Palka
Student Reflection - February 27, 2013
Today’s challenge did not have any stressful time crunch, but because my group members and I are used to working that way we rushed through it. We were given magnified images of random objects and we had to determine what each picture actually was. Taking your time and thinking differently, sums up how to perform this challenge perfectly. Looking at most of the images, it was unclear what they were. Magnified to the degree the images were, many of them became a lot simpler looking. After learning what the objects of the magnified pictures were, it was frustrating. It seemed so simple! Our group tried to hurry through the pictures because we thought faster was better. This proved to be wrong because the winning team took their time and thought very hard about all the pictures. This challenge made me think differently about how I am viewing things. From this challenge I learned that “sometimes things are more than they appear.” This is a lesson that can be used in everyday life because you can learn a lot if you view things in life differently, even if it is as simple as an object.
Winning Reflection - Kendra Patton
Student Reflection - February 20, 2013
Coming into the challenge I was skeptical and felt out of my element. As an economics and legal studies major anything with the word “engineering” is not exactly my forte. My brother, however, who is a flight science major jumped at the opportunity to get me to be on his team to compete in the challenge. This was the first time I heard of the innovation challenge and I am definitely coming back.
My group could not have been more diverse, a flight science, economics, and biology major, I knew if this required any cranes, equations, or physics I would be completely useless. When our team received the details of the challenge we quickly jumped to create a brochure. After all, I felt that I could put my marketing classes to good use. My brother proceeded to create a 3-D penguin that pops out as I began formatting a brochure. Our goal was to target kids who would spend a day at the zoo and create something they would enjoy looking at. We used warm colors that I learned attract more people to look at brochures because they have a “friendly” appearance. Next, we began formatting pictures that showed activities available at the zoo and decided on a “Disney” theme.
Looking around, my brilliant Disney theme did not seem so brilliant anymore as I saw others cutting, gluing, pasting and folding papers. I was fascinated. Within such little time, other groups had created an origami piece in the shape of a fortune teller and bird. At this point we knew it was crunch time as we tried to think on our feet what could possibly make our work unique. After folding, taping, and tripping over each other as we assembled our project in the last few seconds, we turned it in.
Although we did not win, the entire concept of thinking “out of the box” has me hooked. I think it’s safe to say we were the only group who actually made a standard brochure compared to the 3-D object surrounding us. Next week, we’ll be back to try again and this time, we’ll be better equipped for the next challenge!
Winning Reflection - Michelle Palka
Student Reflection - February 13, 2013
Every week, the Weekly Innovation Challenge gives me an engaging chance to step away from the demands of classes and coursework for an hour or so. As a junior biochemistry major, I have been with the same close-knit group of students for three years now, and these challenges give me a unique way to step outside my discipline and meet people from many different backgrounds. This week’s Vegetable Arch Challenge was certainly no exception.
For the challenge, each three-person team was given a bag of assorted vegetables with some wooden skewers, a knife, and a cutting board. The objective was to create the most ascetically pleasing, freestanding arch that reached at least two feet tall. Today, I came to the challenge without any other team members, but a pair of international students quickly welcomed me. My team was a unique combination of majors: aerospace engineering, accounting, and biochemistry. With our different countries of origin and
interests, my group clearly showed the diversity that is an integral part of our university.
Right away, we realized the importance of using the heavier building materials, such as the potatoes, for lower on the arch while saving the lighter pieces for higher features. Working together, we designed a two-tiered system of a tall thin arch above a shorter, wider one. Even though we initially had difficulties stabilizing the structure, creative use of celery sticks and the quick thinking of my teammates overcame these. It may not have been the prettiest design, but I am proud to say that ours was one of the few arches that remained standing long enough for judging.
Even though our team did not win this week, I am glad I had another opportunity to meet and work with new people from outside my usual experiences. I look forward to next week’s challenge and another chance to experience SLU’s diverse community.
Winning Reflection - Steve Doonan