Rubber Band Boat Challenge

November 19, 2015
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This week’s rendition of the Weekly Innovation Challenge was a build project, the engineering majors’ dream, or so you would think. Students were asked to create any type of floating “boat” that could travel, unassisted, the length of rectangular tub filled with water that spanned about three feet long. The boat had to be built only using materials provided by the challenge personnel, which included masking tape in increments of a yard, popsicle sticks, rubber bands, and 6”x6” poster board pieces. This week’s twist was that there was a theoretical cost to all the materials, and the judging criterion was cost effectiveness and design elements. So like the real world, you had to not only create a working boat, but you also had to actually budget your build wisely and be efficient as possible with your materials.

I worked with my usual partner, a public health major, and we felt confident going into this project as I am not only a mechanical engineering major, but also decently knowledgeable in watercraft design. I was very excited to see that the rules and judging criteria were very minimal for this challenge, which allows for a broader spectrum of opportunities to tackle the challenge. I quickly realized as I began to doodle possible designs that though there may be few rules on paper, many more rules of energy, design dynamics, and fluids strongly affected this build. The also very limited building resources contributed greatly to the restraints of the challenge as well, but together the laws of physics and lack of materials opened up a great opportunity for innovation.

We decided to build a boat that would try to minimize materials, weight, and drag as well as maximize propulsion, steering, and design elements. We ended up making a very feasible design that, like most other challenges, with more time could have worked a lot better. Our boat featured a rotating, four-bladed paddle that was propelled by the potential energy of a fastened rubber band pre-twisted about the paddle. The paddle sat in the cutout middle of the thin boat walls. The edges of the boat were to a point in the front and tapered to a small edge in the back. On the edge in the back, we installed two fastened, parallel rudders about an inch apart for directional control. The design in mind was practical and attainable, but with limited time and lack of quality tools and materials it was hard to put the slightly complicated ideas into reality.  When finally tested, our boat sputtered forward with great hope and quickly lost propulsion as the paddle hit against the sides of the cutout. Our design had not incorporated a way to keep the rotating paddle from hitting the sides of the boat frame as the rubber band unraveled. The ultimate achilles heel’s of our design was that we relied too heavily on tape, a material not suited for wet environments, and the lack of stabilizing features for the paddle.

The winning design was of a similar concept to use a rotating four-bladed paddle that was much more suited for the wet environment. The boat frame, much more wide than ours, allowed for the rubber band to be stretched more taught and create more potential energy to be converted to kinetic energy for the propulsion of the boat. Their four way blades also featured notched popsicle sticks and no tape, compared to our poster board-popsicle-tape combo. While the winning boat had less aesthetic design elements than ours, it was much more functional and actually almost crossed the length of the tub. The winning design was simple and definitely used fewer materials to create and therefore was very cost-effective. The winning boat of this challenge was certainly the most innovative build produced this week.

While I didn’t win the grand prize, I certainly learned some valuable lessons. I learned that for these competitions you can create the most revolutionary idea, but if you can’t build it in the time and with the materials allotted, then it’s worthless for the competition. In real life this correlates to the restrictions of modern technology and resources and how you have to truly innovate and push the boundaries in a new way if you want to succeed. I also learned when building a product or service, you need to think about the environment the product will be in and the market the service will benefit. These end goal details have to be thought about and accounted for in the design when undertaking such a project. Another lesson I took away from this challenge was an opportunity to see first hand how the lessons I have learned in physics apply directly to the success or failure of a product. It gave me a real world glimpse of how all the physics classes will definitely pay off in the long run. All that being said, this week’s challenge definitely required true innovation to not only win, but also to compete.

Winning Reflection - Elliot Boerding

  • Nov 28th, 5:18am

    سیما تاب جنوب تولید کننده انواع مبلمان شهری در شهرستان دزفول آماده خدمات رسانی و ارائه محصولات برای تمامی شهر های کشور در مناطق شهری و صنعتی می باشد.
  • Dec 23rd, 10:32am

    You look so enthusiastic to join this event. I can only help with a wishes, hope you can be more successful in the future.
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