December 2013

  • Save the Santa Challenge

    December 5, 2013
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    Student Reflection - December 4, 2013

    The Weekly Innovation Challenge (WIC) is always a great opportunity to take a break from classes and creatively solve problems, and today’s provided an excellent conclusion to the semester. This week’s competition, the “Save the Santa Challenge,” seemed like a humorous event at first but required significant thought and planning. Even if it was a simple building challenge on the surface, the event really combined engineering with economics and manual dexterity.

    The main objective for this event was to build a contraption to quickly rescue a stuffed Santa Claus toy from a chimney. While it might have been simple to just hook the toy and scoop it out, the challenge was more complicated than just that. While a wide range of materials were available, the scoring was partially based on the amount of supplies used. Also, to add a certain degree of realism, shaving cream simulated fire in the chimney, and the amount of cream displaced during the rescue would be weighed and scored. Finally, every team was on the clock, trying to effect the fastest Santa extraction.

    Because scores for each category were weighted equally and normalized to the best team, my group knew that we needed to look for any advantage we could find. Effectively, we needed to balance the price of supplies with the speed and ease of handing the device to get Santa out cheaply and safely. In most building challenges for the WIC, I have usually started piecing together constructions without a full plan for them using nearly unlimited resources. For today’s, however, my team and I spent most of the time planning our design and only built it in the last few minutes. It seemed like most teams utilized a long dowel with a candy cane hook on the end to snare the toy, but my teammate came up with an innovative alternative: why buy a candy cane when the dowel rod was longer than we needed? By using the excess wood as our hook, we were able to produce a cheaper device than many other teams.

    Even if we fell back on the common hook design, a few teams took different approaches. One team managed to fish Santa out using a candy cane hook on the end of some line. Another group minimized their budget by using only a looped fishing line secured by some masking tape. Even if they ended up with the cheapest solution, my team only slightly overspent them. It was also surprising to see how much physical skill in directing Santa’s path came into play. While I got him out with less than a gram of shaving cream, another group with a similar design hit the wall of the chimney and ended up with much more. On the other hand, the winning team also used a hooked pole and only displaced about a tenth of a gram. Even with practice before the timed trials, few groups had their rescues go quite as planned.

    Today’s Weekly Innovation Challenge brought together a number of important elements like design, speed, and economy. Even though my team did not win today, it was still a fun opportunity to work with some of the people I have met though this past semester of challenges. I am really looking forward to see what the WIC has in store for next year.

    Winning Reflection - Steve Doonan

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