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JPL Annual Invention Challenge - ENTRY 4
a) What your team thought of the challenge (objective)?
Difficult. Every step of way required development. In other words, GREAT. As usual, this was another most excellent contest. We really did enjoy it and are anxiously awaiting the 2005 challenge.

b) What ideas your team considered?
We considered using the "curve of quickest descent" (a cycloid, constrained by rails), the arc of a pendulum (constrained by a cable), and freeflight, powered by a slingshot.

Swinging pendulum with release mechanism, Curve of Quickest Descent rails with crashpad, 800 pound gorilla to power the ball to its destination. (Alan actually built one that only weighed 400 pounds).

c) What was your final design?
Freeflight is theoretically the fastest of the three, since energy is added to the ball. For launching force, we used four strands of surgical rubber which were adjustable for aiming in range. A laser pointer allowed us to adjust our aiming in azimuth. A pair of two by two wooden braces was added to the launch platform to prevent recoil from slowing the ball. Surgical rubber slingshot followed by a wood-and-fiberglass-sandwiches crashpad. Three layers of fiberglass insulation sandwiched between four fiberboard bookshelves served as our non-bounce crash pad. Braces were needed behind the launch tower to absorb the slingshot recoil.

d) What was your testing process and how did you improve?
First testing was done by dropping the bowling ball on different crash pads. We tried rubber and/or cloth doormats, sandwiches of wood and bubble-wrap and/or doormats, and finally a wood and fiberglass sandwich. For final testing, we built a launch platform and "catcher" as close to the official ones as we could make them. We used carbon paper to measure the impact point of the ball on the crash pad, and adjusted the aiming accordingly. It was repeatable to better than 1/2 inch.

e) What were your feelings or experiences at the JPL contest?
Our feelings during the contest were of high excitement and interest in the other designs. Unfortunately, it was too crowded to examine most of them. We hope you publish all of the designs; they are a major result of the contest. Enjoyed seeing all the different designs. Enjoyed seeing the degree of engagement of the schools.

f) How would your team improve your design?
We could improve our design by having a two-bounce crash pad. It would trim significant time from our slingshot approach. Make an explosive driven slingshot followed by a heavy oak reflector followed by a reaction mass crashpad.

To return to the results page please click here.
For a photo gallery of the 2004 event, click here.
For the event rules please click here.

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