NOT the Fast Lane

Mar 21, 2005

Who said educational stuff can't be fun too? NOT Kettering's ASME chapter - they hosted a design competition based more on control than speed.

Getting the creative juices flowing (AND getting a few extra credit points) right before finals was motivation for about 80 Kettering students to engage in a friendly competition sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).  Their March 19 design contest for the "laziest ball" generated some interesting structures meant to slow a dropped ball's progress. The winning time was 13.4 seconds from the drop site to the finish. The winning team was Paul Ovares and Ben Helmreich. Winners received a $100 gift certificate to Best Buy.

Using high tech materials such as popsicle sticks, electrical tape, hot glue, rubber bands and foam padding, more than 40 teams spent four hours engineering structures designed to slow the progress of a foosball dropped through a tube from a 24-inch elevation.

Teams employed a variety of methods to slow down their ball, including creating tiny speed bumps and multiple switchbacks in their tracks. One team even glued a slice of pizza to their structure, its use was unexplained except that the team was "working on the intimidation factor."

To have accurate timing capabilities, event organizer Nash Hale, a senior Mechanical Engineering student from Wilmington, N.C., worked with Electrical Engineering student Ryan Pline, of Lansing, Mich., to develop a timing device that would record ball travel time for each design project. "It was an interdisciplinary effort," Hale said. The ball was dropped through a tube in the plexiglass platform to start the counter and dropped into a plastic cup to stop the counter.

According to Dr. Raghu Echempati, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering, the winning device will be useful in teaching relevant classes, such as Dynamics. "Students can use the winning structure to do simple calculations using Newton's laws of motion and energy principles to predict the traveling time for the rolling ball, and to compare the theoretical predictions with the actual experimental time," said Echempati, "The effects of friction can also be studied for this problem," he said. "There is a lot of educational value in this design contest."

And for some students, the educational value includes those extra credit points offered by a number of Mechanical Engineering faculty. Every little bit helps the week before finals.

Written by Dawn Hibbard