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Robot Chariots of Fire

April 15, 2008 – Robots will race chariots and carry eggs, and students will display a spy plane, a moon buggy and other projects as the University of Utah’s Department of Mechanical Engineering holds its 11th annual Design Day this Thursday, April 17.

As always, stuffed toy cougars – the mascot of University of Utah rival Brigham Young University – will be hurled as far as possible by enthusiastic junior high school students.

The public and news media are invited to attend Design Day events, which are free and will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. MDT in and around the Olpin Union Ballroom.

Design Day is held each year because “creativity, teamwork, leadership and communication can’t be taught through lectures; they can only be learned through experience,” says Kent Udell, professor and chair of mechanical engineering.

Here is the schedule of Design Day events:

  • 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., fourth-year mechanical engineering students will present and demonstrate their capstone research projects. For a list of the projects, including the moon buggy, spy plane, a robotic hand and others, please see:
  • 9 to 11 a.m., junior high school teams from around Utah will build trebuchets – catapult-like devices powered by a counterweight. The teams compete for accuracy and distance as they fling toy cougars across the ballroom.
  • 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., transport robots,designed by Mechanical Engineering 1000 students, will be competing in a “Sp’egg’tacular Relay” in which the robots try to carry eggs without breaking them.
  • 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the Saltair Room, teams of junior-level mechanical engineering students will hold a robot chariot racing event. The students designed robots with legs to pull a small chariot and rider. The robots can bump, push and shove their opponents, but must keep one leg in their lane. The teams will compete in head-to-head races on a figure-eight-shaped race course to become the grand champion.

Mark Minor, an associate professor whose students built the robot chariot racers, describes the robots as including a variety of designs, from “little quadrupeds to bipeds to things that look like bug-like aliens with tentacles.”

“Chariot racing gives the students a chance to challenge themselves building legged robots and having a project with some humor,” Minor adds. “It gives them a chance to battle against each other in a different way, in the spirit of Ben Hur.”

The Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Utah is committed to providing students with a broad-based, rigorous and progressive education that empowers each student to play a significant role in the design and manufacturing of products and systems that significantly improve people’s lives and create a better world.

For more information about the Department of Mechanical Engineering, visit