Last weekend I took part in the Heavy Metal: Amped on Wind Power challenge at the Boston Museum of Science. It’s an incredible one day engineering challenge in which high schoolers from all across the US meet up, are randomly broken into teams, and have to rapidly design, prototype, test, and build a huge mechanical structure to lift a giant metal trash can three stories into the air using nothing but wind power. The competition was a ton of fun, and I was assigned as a mentor to Team Steel, the most hard core group at the event. As such I gave them guidance and advice for what to do, but the team actually came up with and implemented the awesome device you see above. And it’s a good thing too, since they had much better ideas than I would have ever had.
We had few materials (mostly cardboard, duct tape, and pvc piping), and our only power source were two giant fans blowing hurricane gusts. After a lot of discussion and failed designs the team settled on the waterwheel device you see above. The cups on the bottom would catch the wind, spinning the whole device around an axle made out of two cardboard tubes coated with torn up trash bags to decrease friction. As it spun it would wind up a rope which was attached to the trash can through a pulley, hoisting it to the ceiling.
So how’d we do? Pretty damn well! We raised the trash can the full 27.6 feet in only 83 seconds earning us 5th place out of 32 teams. Only 11 teams raised the can the entire distance, so it was quite an accomplishment (the winning team shattered the previous record, finishing in 29 seconds. Wow!). The most impressive part in my mind though was how the team iterated on design after testing, and how quickly they settled on an idea to try instead of debating endlessly. Hopefully some of these super talented kids will wind up getting interested in game development!