Raft Challenge

February 15, 2012
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Student Reflection - February 14, 2012

From Obstacles to Opportunities

Today’s competition had a few interesting quirks. From cunning sabotage to absolute minimalist designs, the race did not disappoint. Immediately after the rules were explained, one team noticed a loop hole: all items could be purchased and returned for full price as long as they were not damaged. Using this knowledge, they purchased all of the large straws—the items in highest demand—with intent to return them at the end of the design period. Not to be set back, everyone else redesigned using the other, cheaper items. Fortunately their clever plan backfired, leading to cheaper and more innovative designs all around.

The issue of shortages is often an obstacle in the real world as well. Generally it isn’t from a competing firm purchasing all of the materials, but it can be a hindrance nonetheless. While previously this may have been considered a limitation, we can now see that tough constraints on available materials can actually lead to better, more economical, and most importantly, more innovative designs.

On a grander scale, hurdles are often seen as an obstruction in the path to creativity. However, considering these hurdles as a challenge to be more innovative can often lead to remarkable designs.

- Winning Post from Thomas Nalley, Elizabeth Honigfort, Mike McFadden


Many times in engineering the fastest, safest, or most luxurious design is not needed. Usually the simplest, cheapest design that works is the one used. For example, a typical lock only needs to be able to keep out most people—not criminal masterminds. Similarly in this challenge, there was no advantage to having a faster or safer raft for the Billiken. With that in mind, it was essential to create a strict budget for the raft in addition to keeping track of the other teams’ spending. One problem we encountered was that our design was not complete before buying supplies, so we needed to keep spending to finish the raft. We also overestimated the danger of the Billiken getting wet, further increasing design cost. An interesting psychological effect to note was that we thought the huge spending allowance meant the task would take 30-50% of the budget to successfully complete, but the task itself was actually the easy part. Budgeting was far more difficult with the temptation to “improve” the boat. Had we chosen an unbelievably tight budget and stuck with it, we would have forced ourselves to become more creative instead of relying on dollars to solve our problems.

- Richard Pham and Ben Minden-Birkenmaier


When we first received the challenge to make an inexpensive boat, we wanted to make our design out of straws. However, we waited too long to buy the material and the supply of straws ran out. As a result, we had to totally scrap our design and come up with a new idea. Using two feet of duct tape to make a canoe was the most inexpensive design we could think of with the time we had left. No one thought our boat would hold up, so we had to go last during the testing portion of the competition.

We surprised everyone, though, even ourselves: the duct tape canoe held up! Through this week’s challenge, we learned that if you have to fit a budget, make the material you have work, even if it is not your first choice. We also learned, though, that the cheapest solution to a problem may not be accepted by the public as a safe idea. You must find a balance between cost-efficiency and good design in order to find an answer that will meet everyone’s needs.

- Emily Hart, Nick Lewchenko, & Christian Barbusa


One! Two! Three! Sink…Unfortunately our raft did not float. Our creativity for our raft began with large straws. We cut them in half in order to keep our cost down. Next, we weaved the straws to create a platform to support the Billiken. After testing it on the water it sank, so we added three large Popsicle sticks to the bottom for more support. Sadly it sank again in our final run. From our attempt, we learned our raft would have been more successful if it would have had more displaced volume. If we were to do this challenge again we would concentrate less on the cost of the supplies and more on a successful product. In the real world it is important to remember you want the product to be successful to satisfy the customer, even if it means going over budget. This is the most important lesson we took away from the challenge.

- Kendra Patton, Becky Mitrovich & Annie Radville

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