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Robots to Portray ‘Harry Potter’

April 20, 2006 – Robots will fill the role of fictional wizard Harry Potter and navigate a maze. Other devices named “Little Egg Riding Hoods” will try to carry raw eggs intact over a river and through the woods to grandma’s house. College seniors will demonstrate their inventions. And stuffed cougars – the mascot of University of Utah rival Brigham Young University – again will be hurled through the air.

Those activities will occur as the University of Utah Department of Mechanical Engineering hosts its ninth annual Design Day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, April 25 in the Olpin Union Building Ballroom and surrounding areas.

As always, news media and the public are invited to watch the fun:

  • 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Senior Design Project Demonstrations, Union Ballroom corridor – Eighteen teams of seniors in mechanical engineering will exhibit their design projects using posters and-or hands-on demonstrations. (See list below.)

  • 9:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m., Trebuchet Competition, Center Ballroom – Junior high school students will build trebuchets, which are like catapults, except they are powered by a counterweight rather than by a release of tension. As in past years, the trebuchets will hurl toy BYU cougars to their doom. Teams will compete based on who can fling the cougars the farthest and most accurately.

  • 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Little Egg Riding Hood, East Ballroom. First-year mechanical engineering students were allowed to spend no more than $15 to design and build autonomous machines to carry raw eggs, hopefully without breaking them. Based loosely on the folk tale about Little Red Riding Hood, the Little Egg Riding Hoods must cross a manmade river and travel through obstacles in the “woods” to reach grandmother”s house. Members of the winning team – those whose eggs don’t splatter en route – get to skip the final exam in their design and visualization course.

  • 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., Mechanical Engineering and the Goblet of U robot competition, Saltair Room. This event is based on “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” in which the young wizard is selected by a magical artifact known as the Goblet of Fire to play in the Triwizard Tournament. Harry also is known for playing Quidditch, a soccer-like game in which broomstick-riding players score goals with balls named Quaffles. In the robot version, teams of third-year mechanical engineering students have built autonomous robots that must determine how to move through a labyrinth of walls, find a secret code required to enter a secret door and retrieve the Quaffle, which in this case is a ping-pong ball. Once past the secret door, the robots must place the Quaffle inside a goblet. Members of the winning team will be excused from the final exam in their mechatronics course.

(Poster presentations about the robots will be displayed from 9 a.m. to noon in the Saltair Room.)

(Note to television news crews: The robots’ infrared sensors are designed to minimize the possibility of TV cameras interfering with operation of the robots – a problem during some past events. There also will be a designated, taped-off space for camera crews.)

Here is a partial list of this year’s Senior Design Projects:

  • An all-terrain walker for a child with cerebral palsy.

  • A backpacking heater that will heat a sleeping bag or coat.

  • Chumbleysticks, a type of ski designed to perform consistently in all snow conditions for all skiers.

  • A prototype of an economical desalinization process that could produce drinking water after disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.

  • A Formula I type racecar built to compete in a national competition, a mini-Baja, single-person dune buggy, and a fast, safe downhill soapbox derby-style racer.

  • A hexaball, or spherical robot with six independently powered and controlled legs.

  • A high-speed, unmanned aerial vehicle meant to break the speed record for its class (250 to 300 mph) and that weigh less than 50 pounds, a “micro” air vehicle equipped to conduct aerial surveillance, and a small unmanned aircraft to help biologists observe whales off the coast of Argentina.

  • A “microfluidic spotter” that eventually would be used by doctors to quickly determine the best medicines to use given an individual patient’s body chemistry.

  • A scuba pool designed for scuba shops to use in trade shows and to teach students all that is necessary to become certified scuba divers.