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U Engineers Battle Zombies, Colonize Mars

A mechanical engineering student prepares his robot for battling “zombies” during last year’s Mechanical Engineering Design Day at the University of Utah. This year’s event is scheduled for April 16.

April 11, 2013 – University of Utah mechanical engineering students will test autonomous robots against invading zombies as one of many class competitions and design projects showcased at the U’s Mechanical Engineering Design Day on Tuesday, April 16.

The public and news media are invited to the event from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the ballroom of the A. Ray Olpin Union Building.

Other projects include a mechanical leech, an electronic device to help the visually impaired play soccer, racing vehicles and a lunar excavator.

In the “Zombie Wars” competition, robots designed and built by U mechanical engineering freshman have two minutes to navigate a track, shoot pingpong balls at three zombie targets and repeatedly whack the head of a doll painted to look like a zombie.  The robots use sensors to detect infrared start and stop signals, and to locate the zombie targets and zombie head.  Points are awarded for wreaking havoc on the zombies, with a bonus for speed.

Mechanical engineering juniors will compete in the futuristic game “Colonize Mars,” in which alliances of robots cooperate in a timed mission to build bridges, weather stations and other structures in preparation for a manned colonization of Mars. The robots must use sensors to detect and collect specific rock samples. Alliances earn points for building structures and collecting samples to win the competition.

Sophomore thermodynamics students will compete in “The Pineapple Express,” in which air-powered trains face off in head-to-head competitions that test both speed and agility.  The trains must race down a track, pass through a tunnel and stop within a specified distance of the finish line.  The fastest train that succeeds in stopping will win the competition.

Mechanical Engineering Design Day events are:

  • Senior Design Showcase – 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Union Ballroom.
  • Mechatronics Competition (“Colonize Mars”) – 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., Saltair Room.
  • Thermodynamics and Sustainability Competition (“The Pineapple Express”) – 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., East Ballroom.
  • Freshman Design Competition (“Zombie Wars”) – noon to 2 p.m., West
  • Ballroom.

“Design Day provides an opportunity for all our undergraduates to showcase their year-long projects,” says Tim Ameel, professor and chair of the university’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. “Seniors will be exhibiting their innovative solutions to some of today’s engineering challenges. It is exciting to see the students’ ideas come to fruition.”

The senior design showcase projects are:

  • ASECK Cautery Knife
  • Baja SAE
  • E-tetra Kayak
  • FSAE Chassis/Drive
  • Grand Canyon
  • Green Machine
  • Human Powered Vehicle
  • Indoor Aerial Reconnaissance Vehicle
  • Knee Scooter
  • L3 Clinic
  • Landing Gear Alignment Tool
  • Mechanical Leech
  • Microcontroller-based Atmospheric Sounding System
  • NASA Lunar Excavator
  • Quadruped Robot
  • Quad Propeller UAV
  • Robotic Test Bed
  • Saharan Rolling Spider
  • Self-balancing Camera Stabilizer
  • SITE: Adaptive Soccer
  • Solar Powered Helicopter
  • Weatherized UAV
  • WET Actuator Educational Outreach Kit
  • WET Fountain Design

The Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Utah is committed to providing students with a broad-based, rigorous and progressive education. By combining state-of-the-art facilities with renowned faculty, the department provides an education that gives students the necessary skills to become the next generation of innovators. For more information about the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Design Day, visit