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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.