ANN ARBOR (WWJ) – More than 200 engineering students gathered around and watched in anticipation as the machine began working. Step after step it went through a chain of events, until finally — “pop” — a ping pong ball launched ten feet in the air and landed successfully into a basket.
The sequence of events happened again and again Aug. 29 — sometimes with success, and sometimes failure. But it was all part of a learning experience for incoming Michigan Engineering students.
The activity was part of Design Immersion, a 36-hour boot camp for incoming University of Michigan College of Engineering students that includes a variety of challenges to jumpstart creativity and introduce the modern engineering design process. It culminated with the creation of a Rube Goldberg machine, which is a device that uses a series of complicated actions to accomplish a simple result — in this case, launching a small ball into a target.
Teams were presented with limited materials, which included a KNEX motor, cardboard, duct tape, cup, spoon and various office materials, and asked to build the machine in a few hours. This year’s winning team hit the target three out of three times, a first for the challenge.
“It was a really great way to end the competition, and demonstrated that the wining team tested the machine many times to ensure it could handle three successful attempts in a row — and under pressure,” said Jennifer Wegner, Assistant Director of Student Affairs at the U-M College of Engineering.
The two-day Design Immersion program, created by the Multidisciplinary Design Program and Center for Entrepreneurship, included a variety of challenges tackled by small teams of students. Guided by a peer mentors, students were introduced to idea generation, discovering customer needs, and designing machines to meet specific requirements.
“The purpose of the program is to help students see the entire process of utilizing their engineering education,” said Gail Hohner, managing director of the Multidisciplinary Design Program. “Students often get focused just on single classes and lose sight of the entire process. We want to show it to them at the very beginning and remind them that it is a process and they should refine their skills it.”
Design Immersion participants launch their Rube Goldberg machine, which was one of three to innovate on the contest by adding an autonomous vehicle that transported the ping pong ball.
The program challenges students to tackle both fast-paced activities intended to get their creative juices flowing and more in-depth challenges during which they gather data from real sources and build complex solutions to the problems.
“All of the games in this 36 hours have real-world applications for engineers, we’ve just put it together in an environment that is fun and exciting,” said Hohner.
Design Immersion, now in its third year at the College of Engineering, is offered free of charge to registered incoming first-year engineering students. This year’s event was sponsored by Union Pacific.