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JPL Annual Invention Challenge - 2004 Rules
The JPL Annual Invention Challenge is ready for its seventh year. The title for this year's contest is the Bowling Ball Drop Contest. The objective and rules are listed below. Questions related to this contest and entry forms should be directed to: Paul MacNeal at: work phone (818)354-7824, FAX (818)393-1156, M/S 157-500, located in Building 157-510, or e-mail to

Objective: Create a device that moves an officially supplied 10-pound [4.5 kg] bowling ball from a 1.5-meter tall platform into a spring-loaded pan. The bowling ball must not crack, or in any other way, damage a raw egg that lies only 2 centimeters underneath the pan. The winner will be the contestant whose device accomplishes this task in the fastest time.

  1. The contest is open to all JPL employees, contractors, and immediate family members. Family members and friends are welcome to watch the contest, but must be cleared through the security office prior to arrival. Applications for JPL employees, contractors, and immediate family members entering the contest must be filled out and submitted to Paul MacNeal prior to midnight November 24, 2004. An entry form is included at the end of the rules. All entries will be time stamped by Paul MacNeal based upon the time received. Only the first 20 JPL/contractor entries will be permitted to compete. Five alternates will be accepted in case some entries withdraw prior to the competition.

  2. The contest is also open to teams of students from Southern California middle schools and high schools. School teams must submit their entry form (included at the end of the rules) to Paul MacNeal no earlier than September 13, 2004 and no later than midnight October 8, 2004. Student teams will be notified to verify their acceptance into the contest no later than October 13, 2004. All entries will be time stamped by Paul MacNeal based upon the time received. Questions regarding the entry forms can be directed to Rich Alvidrez (818)354-1214. Each school is allowed no more than three teams. Internal school competitions are encouraged to select the top three teams if necessary. Student teams will compete at a regional competition held on Saturday, November 20, 2004 at either the University of Southern California or California State University at Fullerton. Details of the regional competitions will be sent to all registered teams. Only the first 75 student team entries will be permitted to compete at the regional competitions. The top five winners of each regional competition will be invited to compete at the JPL contest held on Friday, December 3, 2004 (see Rule 3 below). In addition, the next closest ten entries between both regional competitions will be invited to compete at the JPL contest. All student teams that participate in the JPL contest must be cleared through the JPL security office prior to arrival.

  3. The contest date and time is Friday, December 3, 2004 between 11:30 AM and 1:00 PM. The contest is held at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, CA 91109. The contest area is located north of the fountain area, in front of the Administration Building (Bldg. 180) steps. In the event of inclement weather (rain or high winds), the contest may be held indoors at JPL's vonKarman Auditorium or postponed.

  4. The device must have the following characteristics:
    a) The device must start with a single motion or act.

    b) The device must be autonomous (no human contact) after it starts. Remote control devices are not allowed.

    c) The device is defined as anything that is not the platform, the bowling ball, the pan holder, the pan, the egg holder, or the egg.

    d) The device must not be in contact with the bowling ball in any way at the end of run time. To be specific, the timing clock will continue to run until the device is no longer in contact with the bowling ball.

    e) The bowling ball will be placed onto the fender washer by hand prior to the start of run time during the set-up period. Orientation of the bowling ball is the contestant's choice.

    f) The device may not touch or alter the composition of the pan, the pan holder (including its components), or the egg in any way at any time. Violation of this rule will lead to disqualification.

    g) The device must cause the ball to move into the pan in a safe manner. The ball must move 1.5 meters down and 1.0 meter sideways to get into the pan (See Figure 1). Damage to either the platform, the pan, or the pan holder will be grounds for disqualification. Damage caused to the bowling ball itself will disqualify the entry and may lead to a monetary fine for bowling ball replacement.

    h) In order to win, the device must cause the bowling ball to be gently placed into the pan. The pan holder has some stiffness but is not able to resist a tall free drop of the bowling ball. Calculations show that the ball could be dropped, with no initial velocity, approximately 2 inches without having the pan holder contact the egg.

    i) There are no size or weight restrictions.

    j) All construction materials are acceptable, except that no explosives, caustic chemicals, or other materials that might cause personal injury are allowed.

    k) Electrical power will be available (120 V, 15 Amp max).

    l) Devices should be made adaptable to an uneven sloped concrete surface. See Rule 8.

    m) The device may be composed of one or more parts.

  5. The bowling ball platform has the following characteristics:

    a) The platform top is 15 inches [38.1 cm] square.

    b) The platform has a " fender washer glued in the center. The fender washer is 1/16" thick and 2.0" in diameter. The bowling ball must be placed on the washer and must be in contact with the washer at the start of the running time.

    c) The edges of the top platform have sixteen 5/16" holes drilled through the platform that is made from 5/8" thick plywood as shown in Figure 2. These holes can be used to attach the device. Clamps may also be used as long as no damage is caused to the platform.

    d) The platform base is 12" square and is hollow. The base will have between 50 and 100 pounds of weight to help prevent the platform from tipping over. Any device that causes the platform to tip over or be damaged will be disqualified.

    e) The height of the platform will be 1.5 meters [59 inches] above the top of the pan holder. Leveling feet will be used to ensure that the platform top is level.

    f) The center of the top of the platform will be located 1.0 meter [39.4 inches] away (laterally) from the center of the top of the pan holder. See Figure 1.

    Figure 1
    Figure 2

  6. The pan and pan holder have the following characteristics:

    a) The top of the pan holder is flat and is 12" square.

    b) The pan is glued to the center of the top.

    c) The pan is an ordinary 8" round steel cake pan. The pan measures 8.25" in diameter at the top opening and has a 1.5-inch tall lip all around the perimeter.

    d) The top plate of the pan holder is suspended above the egg by 2 cm [0.79 inches] at rest.

    e) The top plate of the pan holder is supported by four compression springs that each has a spring rate of 19.6 pounds per inch. The springs are preloaded 0.06 inches at rest. The four springs can be purchased from Associated Spring Raymond (Item number 00360-049-2000, Music Wire) or from Paul MacNeal for a fee of $4.00 to cover the cost of the springs and shipping charges.

    f) The top surface of the pan holder will be level to the ground. Leveling feet will be adjusted for uneven ground. The top surface of the pan holder will be approximately 6.0 inches above the ground. See Figure 3.

    g) Building Notes:
    - The bolt is a 1/4" full thread, 5" long.
    - Drill a 5/16" clearance hole in the top of the pan holder at the four corners.
    - Washers are used under the head of the bolt, on each side of the spring, and under the nut.
    - The spacer block is 1.50" by 1.50" by 1.35" high.
    - The four leveling feet are 1.5" away from the bolts.
    - The bolts are located 1.00" in from each edge in the four corners.
    - The gap between the nut and the washer as shown in Figure 6 is caused by the weight of the bowling ball (normally there is no gap, and in fact there is a slight preload of 1.25 pounds at each bolt).

    Figure 3
    Figure 4
    Figure 5
    Figure 6

  7. The bowling ball is a standard bowling ball. It has a diameter of 8.61" and a weight of 10 pounds, plus or minus a pound. There will be three balls to choose from. The three holes will vary from ball to ball. One of the balls (orange in color) has finger holes that are 0.782" in diameter and 0.682" in diameter, and a thumb hole that is 0.840" in diameter. The depth of each of the holes is 2.35 inches. The two finger holes are 1.32" apart (center-to-center) and the thumb hole is located 3.65" away from the finger holes (center-to-center).

  8. The contest site is located in front of the steps leading to Building 180. The site will contain two identical areas for setting up and operating the device. The ground is concrete with a rough finish and has a slight slope. Protective pads will be placed around platform (if possible) to prevent damage to the bowling ball in case of a mishap.

  9. Contestants will have one opportunity to operate their device. The contestant will be given a five-minute period of time to set-up, operate their device, and remove the device from the contest site. Strict time limits will be imposed to ensure that all contestants are able to operate their device. The official starter will give a countdown (3.2.1.GO!) for the start of operation of the device. Timers will start the time at the starter's direction. The timers will stop the watch when the bowling ball touches the bottom of the pan AND the device is no longer touching the bowling ball in any way. The run time will only be counted if the following two conditions are met:
    i) The bowling ball remains in the pan
    ii) The egg shows no signs of cracking

    The contestant will then be asked to quickly remove their device from the contest site and place their entry in an area designated by contest officials for further judging.

  10. The time will be measured to the nearest 0.01 seconds. In case of a tie (within 0.05 seconds), equal trophies will be awarded. Trophies will be divided into two categories: JPL employees/family/contractor entries and school team entries. Trophies for fastest time will be given for first, second, and third place for each category at all contests (regional contests and the JPL contest). Certificates will be issued for the lightest, heaviest, smallest, largest, most unusual, most artistic, and most creative designs.

Entry Form
(pdf file)

School Entry Form
(pdf file)

(You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader 3.0 or later installed on your computer to read these pdf files. The Adobe Acrobat Reader is available for free at the Adobe website.)

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