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JPL Annual Invention Challenge - ENTRY 33
a) What your team thought of the challenge (objective)?
The objective was a fun one- one of those engineering challenges that can prove that there are one million ways to solve a problem, none of which is the right one.

b) What ideas your team considered?
We started our thinking focusing on the "shortest time possible" and realized that was a freefall. The fastest time was going to cushion the energy from the bowling ball drop instead of transferring it back. This lead to a design of pushing the ball of and having it land into a bucket filled with sand. The sand would cushion the impact, but then fall out of the bucket in large holes. This design was way too complicated and was beyond the scope of what we'd be able to manage with limited time, money, and most importantly the right tools. This lead us to the thought that a steep ramp would be as close to a freefall as we were going to get.

c) What was your final design?
We pushed the ball off onto two long dowel rods acting as an open ramp. The ramp overshot the cakepan and the bowling ball fell into a hinged "V" that was balanced so that when the bowling ball was in it, it would tip over, dropping the ball from a low height into the cakepan. After the ball was out of the "V" it would spring back into its original position.

d) What was your testing process and how did you improve?
We decided not to make the cakepan platform or the top starting platform. Our design was in peices so we tested them by parts. The bowling ball we were using was actually much heavier than the one used in competition, so it was hard to gauge how the device would work. we tested the starting spring and realized we needed a longer lever arm to get the ball off of the platform. We tested the position of the rails so that the ball would not bounce off. Finally, the night before the competition, we went to a bowling alley, got an old beat-up ball and tested the full operation of the mechanism. We simulated the starting platform by using a tall bookshelf, and instead of having the ball fall into the cake pan, we just let it fall, hoping it would land in the right place.

e) What were your feelings or experiences at the JPL contest?
The entire contest was a lot of fun. The weather was great and it was very interesting to see how all of the teams approached the problem differently. Since there were so many people there, it was hard to see a lot of the teams. The announcing helped that a lot though.

f) How would your team improve your design?
The part of our design that slowed us down the most (that was really controllable) was the starting mechanism. Our springed lever lost time when it smacked against the ball, but then took more time to really nudge it off of the platform. It would be better to have something a bit more forceful, while still ensuring that the ball would fall on the rails.

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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