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Hole in One

Engineering Students Win With Crazy Machines

By Chris Carroll


John T. Consoli

John T. Consoli

What do fond memories of childhood playtime, Olympic downhill skiing and digestion followed by, um, excretion all have in common?

Not much, except that each was the theme of a wacky, undergraduate-built Rube Goldberg machine in the 2018 Alumni Cup competition, sponsored by the University of Maryland’s Engineering Alumni Network.

Every year since 2012, teams from each of the A. James Clark School of Engineering’s eight departments have built a machine designed to complete a mundane task in the most convoluted and entertaining way possible. Past tasks have included taking a selfie and screwing in a light bulb.

This year, the teams set up their contraptions in the rotunda of the Jeong H. Kim Engineering Building with the goal—which they learned one week prior to the Feb. 23 competition—of sinking a one-meter putt.

The real purpose is to bring Clark students together to have fun and build a sense of school pride while informing them about ways they can stay involved after graduation, says Elisabeth Goldwasser ’03, alumni network president.

While some departments have multiple victories, others have none, and she said, “I’m hoping we’ll see the ones who haven’t won yet pick it up this year.”

Goldwasser’s antidynastic wish would be fulfilled.

First Place – Electrical and Computer Engineering

ECE was a first-time winner this year with a machine whose theme of beloved childhood toys initially might have seemed modest, but its miniature cars looped the loop and its automated pool cue clacked with unerring efficiency.

“I think the judges liked the fact that our machine performed the task perfectly three times,” team captain Hasme Jani ’18 said. “The theme of our machine also related to things from their time—mini golf, Hot Wheels, pool, etc.”

True to their department, the machine featured three Arduino microcontrollers, continuity sensors, servos, relays and various motors. Team members were particularly proud, Jani says, of the power supply built from scratch rather than purchased.

Second Place – Fire Protection Engineering

FPE didn’t skimp on the fire, or the spectacle. Its medieval-themed machine started with a river of flame igniting from a dragon’s mouth. Next, a catapult flung a projectile and a battering ram toppled a tower. Finally, a wooden drawbridge lowered and instead of a troop of horsemen, a golf ball rolled across and into the hole.

Third Place – Mechanical Engineering

Each elaborate bit of ME’s whimsical putting machine tied into a Disney EPCOT center theme, including a tiny boat blown by an artificial wind, the Eiffel Tower (with a claw hammer suspended beneath it), tiny cars on tracks, a pagoda and the flags of many nations. But that stein of beer in the Germany section of the machine? The foamy head was made of cotton balls, or something…

See the entrants from every department in the Clark School in this photo slideshow: 

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The Fischell Department of Bioengineering’s Rube Goldberg-style machine mimics digestion, starting with a spoon and ending (lower right) in a toilet. Credit: john T. Consoli

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