This year’s challenge required teams from across the country to water a plant in no more than two minutes, using a minimum of 20 steps. The goal of the Rube Goldberg contest is to devise a machine, inspired by the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Reuben Goldberg’s drawings of fantastical machines, that uses as many steps as possible to perform a task. The Blue Devils team’s machine, called “The Westing Estate,” told the story of a haunted Louisiana mansion and performed the watering task in 135 steps.
Penn State took second place and the University of Texas won third. In the high school competition, the team from New Auburn School (New Auburn, Wisc.), took top honors for its "Toys on Task" device (more on this below).
UW-Stout’s first run of three runs was voided because of a set-up error. On its second run required one intervention. The machine’s third and final run was flawless.
“To even have a shot at winning, we knew we had to have a perfect third run and we got it,” said co-captain Andrew Behnke, a senior. “Our whole team was excited. Everybody was jumping up and down. “The competition was good. We thought we might place second, with a 25 to 30 percent chance at winning.”
Other team members are co-captain Ian Billings, an early childhood education major from Loyal, Wisc.; Neal Belcher, a retail merchandising management major from Park Falls; and Jacob Shultz, an applied science major from Chetek.
UW-Stout hadn’t posted a video of this year’s winning entry as of Monday March 28, but here’s a video of their winning 2010 entry:
The theme of Penn State’s machine was one of the university’s football games. Sprinklers watered the field, under the watchful gaze of coach Joe Paterno. Here's how that machine worked:
The 12-member New Auburn Trojans took top honors for the third time with their “Toys on Task”machine, which took 42 steps to complete its objective. Rod Stetzler, writing in the Chippewa Herald, described the challenge:
"It was a gamble that the 12-member New Auburn High School team didn’t have to take. Two other high schools in the same situation decided to play it safe and sit things out.But with a national title possibly on the line, co-captains Everett Sarauer and Dan Pitts decided go ahead with making a third run of the team’s entry in the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest.Taking the risk and winning outweighed possibly losing, Pitts said.Forty-two steps later, New Auburn completed its third flawless run with its “Toys on Task” machine."
New Auburn team (pictured, below) defeated 13 other teams from 10 states, including California, Illinois, Georgia, Indiana, Nebraska, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Texas and Wisconsin
Rube Goldberg's granddaughter, Jennifer George, who is the organization's Legacy Director, was on hand at the competition and announced the 2012 task: Inflate a balloon and pop it.
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How about a wirebonder gripper, a little tab of metal that pops up to grab a leadframe and move it so that the next device can be bonded? Most people would just connect it to a solenoid and energize the solenoid to pop the gripper up and de-energize it to drop it back down, maybe adding some foam rubber or a dashpot to damp it a bit. But no, that was too simple for the engineers at a former employer of mine! It seems that the gripper made a little bit too much noise, so they designed a stepper motor driven by a DSP card so that they could tailor the motion of the gripper to the nth degree! Now, there were other motors on the bonder that controlled motion of the bondhead with 4 degrees of freedom (X, Y, Z, and theta), and those needed full control of their motion parameters, but the gripper? Give me a break! I should also mention that the gripper assembly was extremely mechanically complex with several dozen screws, a few springs, metal bars and such. I asked one of the manufacturing guys how long it took to assemble this thing, and he said about 45 minutes! When I spoke with some of the technicians about this monstrosity, they just shook their heads. One said, there's complexity, and then there's this nonsense (not in so many words)!
I agree that these competitions spark interest in engineering, creative thinking and teamwork. But let's hope that during the course of their engineering studies, these students unlearn some of their Rube Goldberg design practices.
I suspect that every working engineer, whether hardware or software, analog or digital, has seen examples in their professional life of Rube Goldberg designs that were not intended to be such -- situations where you ask, "what was the goal here -- to solve a relatively straight-forward problem using the maximum possible number of lines of code?"
pcsalex, thanks for commenting. You're right, but we have to seed the generation somehow...
Are you old enough to remember that program that you generally ran across in high school where you formed teams and built a small business to learn about capital formation, business plans and the like? The name is escaping me, but these programs are like that in terms of the inspiration factor.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.