April 2013

  • Floating Platform Challenge

    April 25, 2013
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    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

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  • Minute to Win It Challenge

    April 18, 2013
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    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

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  • Listen Up Challenge

    April 11, 2013
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    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

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  • Emerging Technologies Challenge

    April 4, 2013
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    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

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