Skee-ball and Pizza – the best way to end a semester

168207_robotics_demonstration080.jpgEngineering students in Professor Linda Franzoni’s Fall 2007 ME 141 Mechanical Design course indulged in pizza and a no-holds-barred demonstration of their engineering design skills in an end-of-semester skee-ball contest. The players, however, were robotic ball launchers designed by student teams during the course.

For this skee ball competition, players had to launch small plastic balls into a nested series of rings set at an incline. (Normally, skee ball is a bit like bowling–— where a ball is rolled up an incline into the rings.) Their goal was to get balls to fall into holes at the bottom of each ring, with the chance to score 50 points for the smallest center ring, 30 points for the middle ring and 10 points for the largest outer ring.

Seven teams of students competed in the December 3, 2007 display of mechano-athletic prowess. The winning team members received an 11 in 1 mini-tool, and got to choose the time of their final class presentation the following week.

To get to this point, students had to conceptualize, build and demonstrate their own design for a skee-ball machine. Since this class is largely focused on the design of components, students worked in teams and drew up the components using SolidWorks 3D mechanical design software. Then came the fun part as they built their prototype with a $200 budget. Then they worked to refine the design by conducting performance and failure analysis on their design.

A blatantly pink "Fairytale Princess" machine captured first place after three rounds by scoring 810 points, and caught a few students by surprise. While the name may conjure up outdated images of pampered indulgence, this machine is a modern urban chic rendering in sleek, clean lines. The elegantly simple, shiny metal frame creates a striking contrast with the lacquered, bubble-gum pink ball shoots. The designers include seniors Allen Keel (ME/Econ), Maggie Abernathy (ME/History Minor), Brandon Guard (ME) and junior Kate Danziger (ME).
168207_robotics_demonstration116.jpg
Second place, with a score of 800 points, went to Team Bang-A-Rang. Inspired by the 1991 Robin Williams Peter Pan film “Hook,” The Bang-A-Rang skee-ball machine, with its tinkertoy-like firing mechanism, embodied a sense of Lost Boy whimsy in its design. The Bang-A-Rang team included Sandy “Smee” McKinnon, a senior in mechanical engineering with a minor in economics, Matt “The Pan” Campbell, a senior in mechanical engineering, Alex “Tink” Papadopoulos, s senior in mechanical engineering with a minor in economics, and senior Scott “Roo-fi-ohhh” Bailey (ME/Econ Minor).168207_robotics_demonstration119.jpg

The Make it Rain team muscled their way into a third place finish with 760 points with their sturdy machine made out of thick plywood slabs, springs and PVC piping. They scored the highest number of balls (24 ten point shots) in round two. With a machine this imposing and impressive, perhaps the team should have chosen ‘Lumber Liquidator’ as their moniker. The designers included seniors Brent Cash (ME), Dan Coral (ME/Econ Minor), Warren Davis (ME/Econ) and Sebastian Liska (ME/Physics).
168207_robotics_demonstration066.jpg
Trailing close on their heels at 710 points was the Yertle the Turtle team. Inspired by a Dr. Seuss drawing, this team crafted a toddler-sized green and brown turtle to cleverly conceal their skee-ball machinery from the curiosity of their competitors. Though the nod to Dr. Seuss was obvious in Yertle’s design and naming, the vaguely anime cartoon style eyes suggest a modern day Japanese animation. The Yertle team included mechanical engineering senior Rick Frothingham, senior mechanical engineering/economics double major Ryan Gallant who is also minoring in philosophy, senior mechanical engineering/economics major Jeff Schwane and mechanical engineering senior Tyler Sloss.

168207_robotics_demonstration017.jpgThe Revolution team earned a solid 620 points. Their hand-loaded machine included a stripped down no-nonsense aluminum scaffolding and a powerful cam firing mechanism. Although they scored the highest number of 50-point shots (three), it wasn’t enough to take the lead. Team members included mechanical engineering junior Alison Ernst, mechanical engineering senior Addison Ferrell who is also minoring in Russian, mechanical engineering/economics double major Dan Park, a senior, junior Alyssa Roessler who is majoring in mechanical engineering and minoring philosophy, and Terence Wallace, a senior biomedical engineering, mechanical e168207_robotics_demonstration007.jpgngineering students minoring in chemistry.

The Shootahs team, earning 140 points, took a lighthearted, holiday-themed approach to the aesthetics of their skee-ball machine, which might more aptly be named ‘Christmas Fling.’ A festive, green-tinsel ball collection basket and candy-cane striped ball shoot worked well with the team’s own competition garb. Dressed in monogrammed reindeer horns and Christmas red, this team’s fashion coordination put the other competitors to shame. The Shootah creatives include mechanical engineering seniors Audrey Gaskins and Dennis Bartlett, mechanical engineering/economics senior Holly Hackman and Yajing Gao, a junior triple majoring in biomedical engineering, mechanical engineering and chemistry.

The patriotic Team USA created a Flag-inspired red and white striped, blue starred skee-ball machine with a spinning double-wheel launch on top. 168207_robotics_demonstration044.jpgUnfortunately, Team USA’s launch mechanism wasn’t quite optimized for the malleable surface tension of the skee-balls and couldn’t gain enough traction to go the distance. The team included mechanical engineering seniors John Crowell, Ngozi Kanu, Leslie Vorhees and mechanical engineering/biomedical engineering senior Garrett Wood.

Each team created a written report details the specifications and performance predictions of their design. Part of the report included a ‘sales pitch’–— essentially a marketing strategy–— that required the teams to think through why people might want their product. They also presented their project to the class.