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Robots to the Rescue – and Frisbee Golf

Dec. 4, 2006 — Robots will rescue flood-stranded eggs, machines will play Frisbee golf and students will display science projects as the University of Utah Department of Mechanical Engineering holds its Fifth Annual Undergraduate Research Day on Thursday, Dec. 7.

The event – in and around the university’s Olpin Union Building Ballroom – also will feature another perennial favorite: Junior high school students will build devices called trebuchets to catapult stuffed cougars, the mascot of University of Utah rival Brigham Young University.

The public and news media are invited to attend the free event, which will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“I encourage the university community and the general public to attend Research Day,” says Kent Udell, professor and chair of mechanical engineering. “The contributions made through engineering research and development are the drivers for new technologies that improve our lives. These undergraduate students are showcasing the skills needed to make the world a better place through mechanical engineering. Take this opportunity to see their innovative ideas in action.”

Here is the schedule for Research Day:

  • 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., mechanical engineering dynamics students will compete for the most accurate launch, using devices they designed for playing Frisbee golf.

  • 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., fourth-year mechanical engineering students will outline the progress of their capstone research projects. Projects include an emergency release mechanism for snowboard bindings, a solar vehicle, a moon buggy and an electric skateboard. For more information about the senior projects, please visit

  • 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., the trebuchet competition will feature junior high school teams from around Utah. The students will build trebuchets, which are catapult-like devices powered by a counterweight rather than by sudden release of tension. The teams will then compete for accuracy and distance as they fling small, stuffed, toy BYU cougars across the ballroom.

  • 10 a.m. to noon, an Undergraduate Research Poster Contest will feature research in various areas of mechanical engineering by undergraduates who will vie for prizes of up to $250.

  • 10:30 a.m. to noon, robots built by first-year mechanical engineering students (taking a design and visualization course) will attempt to rescue eggs stranded by a “hurr-EGG-cane.” Students were grouped into design teams with a budget of only $15 to build each robot. The robots must travel from a mock hospital and into a flood zone while dodging swinging tree branches. Then they must retrieve the stranded eggs and transport them back across the flood zone and into egg-sized hospital beds. The robots also must generate power using the “hurr-EGG-cane” winds, which means that at the end of each rescue, they must position themselves next to a box fan and generate a current using a propeller and motor mounted on each robot.

Mechanical engineering is the most extensive of all engineering disciplines, with the widest applicability and greatest flexibility in terms of career paths. 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. The department currently is taking a leadership role in the area of energy sustainability.

“I believe in a future defined by smart people doing good work for the benefit of their communities,” Udell says.

For more information about the Department of Mechanical Engineering, visit: