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JPL Annual Invention Challenge - 2000 Results Gallery
 
 
Welcome to the 2000 Annual Invention Challenge's Invention Gallery. Clicking on the titles will provide notes from each contestant about what they invented, how they made it, and lessons learned from their invention.

The objective was to create a device that removes water from the supply tank and delivers a specific amount of water into the receptacle located above and to the side of the tank. The contest winner was the person whose device delivered the specified amount of water to the receptacle in the fastest time.

Questions related to this contest should be directed to: Paul MacNeal, work phone 818-354-7824 (JPL Internal: xt 47824), FAX 818-393-1324 (JPL Internal x31324), M/S 301-320, located in 301-325Q, e-mail to paul.d.macneal@jpl.nasa.gov.

We invite you to participate in Invention Challenge 2001. Stay tuned for rules coming out soon.

2000 Annual Invention Challenge "Waterfill Contest" Participants

Entry Title of Entry Weight Time Award
3 Big Dipper 40 lb 4.77 sec  
8 Troy Water Warrier 50 lb 3.19 sec  
9 Poseidon's Chore 27 lb 77.63 sec 1st Place - Student; most artistic; lightest; smallest
5 Little Stinker 33.4 lb 3.44 sec Most creative
4 Super Scooper 170 lb 2.50 sec 3rd Place - JPL; heaviest
12 Oh Well 153 lb 1.86 sec 1st Place - JPL
10 Alan's Automatic Aqua Accelerator 46 lb 2.24 sec 2nd Place - JPL; largest; most unusual
2 Plumbingless Ultrasonic Waterjet 1.5 lbs Demo Demonstration only

If you would like to borrow a copy of the 20 minute video of this year's Invention Challenge event, please phone Paul MacNeal at (818)354-7824 or e-mail a request to paul.d.macneal@jpl.nasa.gov. Videotapes of the 1998 and 1999 Invention challenges are also available.

As organizer of this year's event, I would like to personally thank all of the volunteers who helped to make the event such a wonderful experience. This year, the event was covered by two television networks and three newspapers. I estimated the turnout to be around 150 strong under cloudy skies. A special thanks goes out to Alice Wessen for helping in general organization of the event, Ken Berry for organizing the school entries, and Cecelia Lawshe for preparing the web page. Plans for next year's event are already underway. The rules for the 2001 contest will be available at the end of August 2001.


Winners, etc.
Oh Well Winner
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Alan's Automatic Aqua Accelerator Winner
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Alan's Automatic Aqua Accelerator Winner
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Alan's Automatic Aqua Accelerator Winner
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Super Scooper Winner
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Super Scooper Winner
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Super Scooper Winner
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Plumbingless Ultrasonic Waterjet Demo
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General
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The Big Dipper
The Big Dipper
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The Big Dipper
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The Big Dipper
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The Big Dipper
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The Big Dipper
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The Big Dipper
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The Big Dipper
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The Big Dipper
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The Big Dipper
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Simplicity was the major design goal for The Big Dipper. The machine consisted of a 2 1/2 liter bucket with string, pulleys and a ten pound counter weight. A flexible hose connected the bucket to an output pipe. The whole thing was mounted on a scaffold of 2 x 2's.

Finding a flexible enough hose turned out to be the major problem. I hope no one notices that the bottom foot of our plastic shower curtain is missing.

The Big Dipper tested out at four seconds. In retrospect, I cannot imagine why I was satisfied with such a speed. It seems that my sense of aggression has mellowed far too much. Next time, I will consider dynamite!

Troy Water Warrior
Troy Water Warrior
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Troy Water Warrior
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Troy Water Warrior
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Troy Water Warrior
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Troy Water Warrior
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Troy Water Warrior
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Designing:
When we first sat down to brainstorm some ideas, we came up with about five or six designs. Some of these included, a home-made hand pump with an electric motor attached to it, a catapult that threw the water into the receptacle, and the design we ended up using. Our final design was made of three parts. We knew that the water had to travel upwards, so we built a system of pulleys and a big counterweight that pulled a five liter bucket about three and a half feet in the air. Then we knew that the water would have to travel just over three feet to get to the receptacle. To do this we built a pipe 4 inches in diameter out of two liter bottles. Once the water was over the receptacle it had to be stopped and then gravity would pull it down into the receptacle. This was our original design, which produced a test time of somewhere between 5 to 5.5 seconds. After several improvement were made, bigger weights, bungee cords, changing the angle of the pipes, etc.., we were able to produce a test time of about 2.25 to 2.5 seconds.

The day of the competition:
We got to the area of the competition about 45 min. before it was supposed to start. We set up our device with little to no trouble, and checked out our competitors. After a while some volunteers weighed and measured our device. We watched as the receptacle was set up and leveled. Then the tank was brought out and we realized our fatal mistake. We had thought that the tank was going to be positioned with one of the shorter sides facing the tank, but the tank was positioned with one of the longer side facing the tank. We immediately started redesigning with the materials we brought. We took out a pipe extension, widened the legs, and tried to change our device to the new layout. When we thought we had it ready, we carried it over to the tank and filled the bucket. But our design was changed just enough to throw off a measurement here and there and the bucket twisted and poured onto the timer. We were given a second chance and this time the bucket didn't twist but the bucket hit the end of the tubing and it's initial burst of water went to the pavement instead of the receptacle.

Poseidon's Chore
1st Place - Student; most artistic; lightest; smallest
Poseidon's Chore
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Poseidon's Chore
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Lil Stinker II
Most creative
Lil Stinker II
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Lil Stinker II
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Lil Stinker II
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Lil Stinker II
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Lil Stinker II
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Lil Stinker II
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Your concept
This was one way to avoid using any electrical means (pump). We discarded other concepts because a pump idea was asked about, but it was in the grey area. We used a weight to activate the lever arm and a spring to dampen the velocity of the lever arm.

Building the invention
Challenges we faced was getting the proper amount of water in the original container to ensure etween 2.0 and 2.2 liters of water and not touching the side of the fish tank. The materials we used werePVC pipe, wood, door spring, lead weight.

Testing the invention
When we tested it we simulated the approximate size of the fish tank, and actually ran through the process. After initial test we made changes by upgrading from a metal can to PVC.

The Competition
We had no difficulties on competition day. General feelings about the competition, other entries, TV coverage, etc., was that the viewing area may be more appropriate on the top of the stairs, visibility was a problem. The lack of update announcements on rules/dimension changes or any other updates during the development stage made for late surprises.

Hindsight
How we would improve or modify our design would be to remove the spring. Other comments? Ask lots of questions.

Super Scooper
3rd Place - JPL; heaviest
Super Scooper
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General
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Super Scooper
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The Idea
My initial concept for an entry utilized the method used at the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse at Disneyland. They used a waterwheel that turned a pulley system that had multiple cups attached. The water would rise up high enough, and then dump into a "flume" system and end up in the receptacle. Other ideas include a high pressure air system that would blow out a specified amount of water through a long tube into the receptacle, an Archimedes Screw device spilling water into a channel, and a syringe type system.

The idea I ended up with was a simplification of the initial concept. I decided that for speed I would need the mechanism that raised the water up in the air also be the delivery system to put the water in the receptacle. The carefully shaped trough starts in the water tank without touching any portion of the tank. The trough holds enough water to fill the receptacle to approximately 2.10 liter with some spillage being accounted for. A counterweight system raises the water up high into the air (about three feet high) using a strong C-channel as the beam. The fulcrum of the system is a pipe that is about 30 inches above the ground. When the beam is high enough, the water flows down the C-channel and then turns downwards (using a 90 degree PVC pipe fitting) into the receptacle.

Building the Invention
Based on past experience, I decided to make this year's entry a very strong device. The base had four leveling feet to allow for the uneven surface at the competition. I chose to use 5/8ths plywood for the base and tower. Stability and strength were important in order to maintain alignment so I created a tower that had essentially four sides. The cross section of the tower was approximately ten inches by ten inches.

The C-channel was also made with 5/8ths plywood. The pivot point used a heavy pipe (1 inch galvanized pipe). The trough was custom shaped to avoid touching the tank when it exited. One problem I had to overcome was the fact that the water would not dump out if it just stayed in an upright position. The solution required a differential pivot point that would force the trough to rotate while it was being lifted. The green link was at a different pivot point than the fulcrum, and that allowed the trough to rotate and spill the water when it reached the top of its excursion. All portions of the device that came in contact with the water were painted with two coats of epoxy paint to ensure a watertight seal. The PVC pipe fitting at the end of the C-channel was custom fitted to provide a leak tight seal.

The counter weight system was taken from my home gym. Almost 60 pounds were used to raise the water and C-channel system with enough speed to perform well. I had to add a stop plate to prevent the swinging weights from potentially hitting the receptacle.

Testing
My initial test worked well except that the stop plate didn't effectively stop the weights from swinging into the receptacle. I found that adding counterweights (40 pounds) in the front of the base prevented the device from lifting off the ground when the C-channel hit the stop. I also needed to add a piece of masking tape to the PVC pipe to direct the water into the receptacle. I was able to repeat the delivery of 2.10 liters of water on a regular basis so I stopped testing.

Competition Day
When I unloaded my heavy entry from the car, I discovered that the "stop plate" had been destroyed during the transport of the invention. Quick thinking came up with the standard fix used by all engineers --- "duct tape." I was able to constrain the counterweights with duct tape to prevent swinging into the receptacle. The set-up and running of the entry was flawless and I ended up with a 3rd place finish (2.50 seconds).

I was very pleased with the turnout for this year's competition, including approximately 250 people in the audience, four newspaper reporters, and two TV news crews (KABC and KTLA). The fantastic volunteers made my job easy. I actually had time to watch most of the competition.

I expect next year's competition will include more student entries due to additional efforts being expended by Ken Berry and the Education Outreach project.

Hindsight
I was very pleased to have an entry that did well. I would not have changed anything on the design. Possibly using the syringe method would have provided for a faster time, but I was worried about the high turbulence that would have been created (refer to Mike Blakely's entry).

"Oh Well"
1st Place - JPL
Oh Well
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A. The Concept
1. How it works: A six-inch diameter vertical plastic cylinder is lowered into the water supply tank and water flows into the cylinder through a check valve in the bottom end of the cylinder, filling the cylinder up to the level of the water in the tank. A piston sits in the cylinder, above the water level, loaded by steel weights and kept from falling by a rod suspending the piston from the wooden framework above the cylinder. The rod and piston are released by pulling a lever, and the falling piston contacts the water in the plastic cylinder. At that point, the check valve in the bottom of the cylinder closes and the water is forced out through a PVC pipe which taps the cylinder near the bottom end. The total acting weight was close to 135 pounds and the piston area just over 25 square inches, so the pressure achieved in the main cylinder was around 5 psi.

2. Ideas rejected: First raise the water by use of falling weight, then let it flow via a channel or pipe to the receiving jar. Wanted to simplify the concept to transfer the water in a one-step process.

3. How thought of it: Repeated consideration of the task, no single complete inspiration. Discussed design ideas over lunch with a coworker, used his impressions to accelerate my "concept flow."

B. Building the Invention
1. Challenges: Since it had taken me until about a week before the competition to flesh out a design concept I was pleased with, the time left for construction was short. Components which would require days to fabricate were to be avoided and the main cylinder of the device was the primary challenge. Calculations had shown that the cylinder had to be near six inches in diameter or larger for a piston to displace sufficient water to both fill the PVC pipe and supply two liters minimum to the receiving jar. I did not want to manufacture the cylinder, and was fortunate to find some thick-walled PVC drainage tubing which was perfect for the job, perfect except for the near 1/4" out-of-roundness, that is.

The main cylinder was constrained more closely to round by its tight-fitting support and by the bottom end check valve (round, press-fit plywood disk with holes and "flapper" valve). Still it was too out of round to work with a simple close-fitting piston; there was too much drag when a piston was made with clearance under about .02", and that much clearance let far too much water slip by the piston. So a flexible seal for the piston had to be devised and made from water-resistant material. A child’s table place mat fell conveniently to hand at modest cost to domestic tranquility.

Another challenge was in implementing the PVC tubing to direct the water into the receiving jar. Large diameter tubing less restricts flow and 1-1/2" PVC pipe was first considered. It turned out that too much water was used simply to fill the needed length of pipe of that diameter and the "well" would run dry before getting two liters into the receiving jar while flowing under pressure. 1-1/4" tubing would be fine, but an issue of manufacturing convenience cropped up….there was no quick way to cut 1-1/4" pipe threads in the main cylinder to accept the threaded end of the PVC fitting, no 1-1/4" steel pipe there to buy and make into a tap for soft material. So in the end, 1" PVC tubing was selected since a piece of 1" galvanized pipe was readily available to be turned into a tap by hacksawing two wedges from one threaded end and then deburring. Worked like a charm.

The final challenge in completing the design and fabrication was to obtain sufficient weight to give the device a chance of winning, and the device in turn had to be designed to make use of the physical size and shape of the weights. Again, I was fortunate to be able to locate some 18" long, 2-1/2" diameter steel bars to use as part of the weight and which would fit into my cylinder and follow the piston through its travel. Additional weights from home could be placed on top of these steel bars.

2. Materials: PVC for main cylinder and water pipe discharge. Plywood and 2x4 for piston, check valve body and overall frame structure. Cloth-reinforced plastic sheet for piston seal and check valve. Steel threaded rod to suspend piston and weight. Steel band and clamps from water heater strapping kit for main cylinder support sufficient to withstand the rapid stopping of the falling 135 pounds. Various screws, nails and wood glue.

C. Testing the Invention
Thank goodness for testing. The day before the competition, the device was tested several times, after which the piston became jammed in the cylinder. It had quickly swollen more than expected by exposure to the water. It was removed with difficulty, further soaked (did not swell much more) and recut for about .04" clearance with the cylinder. There was still minor piston drag at that clearance because of the slightly oval shape of the cylinder; a silicone spray lubricant eased the drag.

The other test done was a proof loading of the piston support rod, done because of the joints in the threaded rod made with thin-walled coupling pieces. Load was provided by the inventor’s weight.

D. The Competion
No real problems occurred other than anxiety that I get everything to the competition area on time. Thanks to Genji Arakaki for the loan of an aquarium for testing and for helping on contest day. He was quite understanding when I let him know that I had managed to clumsily break his (leaky) aquarium.

E. Hindsight
If we were to compete again, I would get more weight. The barbell weight supports are set to take another 100 pounds or so, and a test would be needed both to verify that the piston support rod could sustain the added tension and to see that the water was not ejected too forcefully to stay in the receiving jar.

Alan's Automatic Aqua Accelerator
2nd Place - JPL; largest; most unusual
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My entry, "Alan's Automatic Aqua Accelerator," is basically a bungee cord powered catapult.

The water is moved by a bucket, made of a one gallon plastic drinking water bottle with the top cut off, attached to a rotating throwing arm. Prior to operation, the bucket is lowered into the supply tank, and fills through a hole in the bottom. The hole has a one-way valve to prevent the water from escaping when the device operates.

The throwing force is supplied by several lengths of bungee cord. A length of bungee attaches between the outer end of the throwing arm and the top beam of the wooden frame. This supplies a relatively high force to initially lift the bottle out of the supply tank. A second longer length of bungee cord is attached to the middle of the throwing arm. It is routed through pulleys to give a longer length of cord and provides a lower but more constant force in the second part of the arc. The throwing arm rotates around a piece of 1/2 inch galvanized water pipe.

Before operation, when the bottle is lowered into the supply tank, the throwing arm is held in place by a latch made from a hook-in-eye screen door latch. The latch fastens over a bolt extending from the end of the throwing arm. The latch is held in place by a wire bent in a loop that pivots to the side to release the latch. The latch is mounted on a wooden frame that can be raised up and down by a screw drive pipe clamp. This provides for an adjustment to fill the water bottle to exactly the right level.

The rotating arm stops when it hits a wooden beam. In this position, the top of the water bottle nests into the top of another drinking water bottle, which acts as a funnel. This is attached to a length of 4 inch diameter clothes dryer vent hose, directing the water down and into the mouth of the target receptacle.

The hardest part of building the device, was getting the water to stay in the bottle while the arm rotated. I anticipated that this might be a problem, but hoped that a solution could be found.

When I first tested the device, I only had one bungee cord from the end of the throwing arm to the top beam of the frame, and quite a bit of water would slosh out of the bottle before it reached the stop. So, I added the second bungee routed through the pulleys and reduced the size of the first bungee to provide a more even acceleration.

This helped a lot, but enough water was still escaping that the amount delivered to the container would sometimes come up short. I cured this by placing a strip of tape across the top edge of the opening of the bottle. Although this reduced the size of the opening and slowed the delivery of the water to the container slightly, it resulted in a consistent amount of water delivered to the container.

I thought the contest this year was a lot of fun. I especially liked that this year's challenge inspired a variety of different solutions to the problem.

Plumbingless Ultrasonic Waterjet
DEMONSTRATION ONLY
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Description of the concept
The mechanism that we presented is different than the inventions that were competed at the Invention Challenge that was held at JPL. In a matter of fact, it was not even used to compete with the others. I thought that it would be nice to bring this fascinating phenomenon to show the participants of competition have the subject of unique water transport mechanisms. What we presented is a water fountain that that is induced by high power (about 100W) focused ultrasonic waves. This fountain is produced using no plumbing and, we reached a height of about 3-4 feet in our lab. A schematic view of the setup is shown in Figure 1 and it involves the used of an ultrasonic lens focusing the waves onto the surface of the water in the tank. The transducer is driven at one of its resonance frequencies (in this particular case we used 832KHz). It is interesting to point out that in some of the other frequencies we can induce either fog or a combination of fog and water fountain. The water height depends on various parameters including the temperature and to optimize the height it would have required some preparations. In the sake of simplicity we chose to show whatever comes out at our pre-selected frequency. While we did not get during our demonstration more than 1-ft height it was sufficiently high to get the idea across. The rate of displacing water from the tank using this ultrasound phenomenon would not have won the competition but its "magic" characteristics got the viewer attention.

Generally, the phenomenon is also involved with other characteristics including the formation of cavitation as shown in Figure 2 and a high temperatures at the focal zone. Jointly with UCLA Medical center we are currently involved with a study of the possible use of the induced heat as a method of noninvasive treatment of spine injury and other orthopedic problems. The study is conducted under funding from the Whitaker Foundation. Other applications that are explored by researchers elsewhere include the destruction of cancer cell through the spine without operation.

Building and testing the invention
We used our lab setup for the demonstration.

We have a series of websites where one can read more about this ultrasonic phenomenon as well as other interesting mechanism that we are developing at the JPL’s NDEAA Technologies Lab. The address of our main website is http://ndeaa.jpl.nasa.gov and the address for information about the water fountain phenomenon and our related our research are available on http://ndeaa.jpl.nasa.gov/nasa-nde/medical/medical.htm More reading material about cavitation can be found in [Lighthill J., &"Acoustic streaming,&" Journal of Sound and Vibration, Vol. 61 (1978) pp. 391-418]


 
 
 
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