03/11/2011 08:00:00

Engineering Design Competition: "Extreme Recycling"

Congratulations to Chris Hallacy, Brad Saund, and Janet Chen for their victory March 8 in the 26th annual ME 72 engineering design competition. This year's theme: "Extreme Recycling." The mission: Design, build, and deploy two vehicles and traverse difficult terrain (water, sand, rocks, and wood chips, with one type of terrain in each of four different 6' x 10' boxes) to collect plastic water bottles, aluminum cans, and steel cans. During each five-minute round, the bots were to transport the recyclables and drop them (ideally, sorted by type, and—in the case of aluminum cans—crushed to less than half of their vertical height) into recycling bins, before scurrying back to the starting zone.

Twenty weeks earlier, at the start of ME 72—Caltech’s undergraduate engineering design laboratory class—students were given a budget (ultimately $1200, of which up to $800 could be spent in the Caltech stockrooms) to purchase whatever they needed to build their bots. The ultimate designs followed a few basic themes: bots with scoopers and grippers, to grab the bottles and cans, and bots with baskets, to haul the loot. Other design features included ramps to wedge under opponent bots and trip them up.

Hallacy, Saund, and Chen—a.k.a. team "BRB"—bested five other teams without dropping a heat during the double-elimination contest. In the final round, against team Wall-E—headed by Keir Gonyea, Chris Pombrol, Allen Chen, and Gerardo Morabito—BRB scored first, delivering a plastic bottle to the recycling bin, and hung on (including by literally hanging on to one of the Wall-E bots) for the win.

Written by Kathy Svitil