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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