Stan’s Obligatory Blog


Nerd Fight!

Filed under: — stan @ 8:24 pm

Today when I was reading my mail, I saw the Caltech calendar for the week, and it said that today was the ME72 engineering contest. This is the course where students are issued a ‘box of junk’ and have to use it to build a machine to compete in a contest. It’s sort of a ‘final exam’, but even though there’s a winner and a bunch of losers, it’s really more about the experience.

This is the first time in many years that I’ve made it out to watch. Sadly, most years I only find out about it after it’s over. So it was a treat to get to go see the contest again.

Today’s contest was to take a short length of chain and carry it somehow up a plastic mesh slope. The machines competed two at a time, and many of them included features to actively interfere with the other machine. So this made for great entertainment.

Many of the machines had wheels with little sprockets on them to engage the mesh and let them climb the mesh. But the mesh was pivoted at the top, like a carnival ladder climb. So a machine that climbed high on the mesh could fall off, and several did.

Another strategy was a small grappling hook. One machine had a hook that it fired up the mesh and then used a string to hoist the chain up to the hook. At the same time, it had a net that it launched sideways to cover its opponent. Unfortunately, launching the hook proved problematic. When it worked, it worked very well. But if it missed, then it was all over for that machine. In the end, they made it to the semi-finals, but the hook misfired, so they didn’t make the finals.

The final round was between two climbing machines. Both were two-part devices, with one piece to climb with the chain, and a second piece that could move around and try to interfere with the opponent’s machine. So this made for an exciting final round. The two climbers went up the mesh, but the smaller one got the jump and was higher. For a time it looked like it might fall off, but the hooks on the wheels managed to hold on to the end, and the designers got the trophy.

This was great nerd fun.

Powered by WordPress