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Robot Competition: Yale Students Demonstrate Their Designs


New Haven, Conn. — The “MENG 185 Robot Competition” of robots made by Yale students in the freshman mechanical design class will be held at 4:00 p.m. on Friday, May 4 in Davies Auditorium of the Becton Engineering and Applied Science Center, 15 Prospect Street. The event is free of charge and open to the public.

“Engineering design is one of the few times when students are forced to predict the future – how will a product be used? How will it be abused? What stresses will it see? How long will its life be? When will it fail? What will happen when it fails? ” said David LaVan, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and instructor for the course.

Design, within the engineering curriculum at Yale, serves as a capstone that pulls together all of the theory and science and focuses on solving a problem. Engineering design requires students to analyze the data and knowledge they have, to identify what is missing, and to synthesize that knowledge into appropriate decisions. MENG 185, is the first design class in mechanical engineering and offers an introduction to design methods, materials, and processes.

The robot building process is based on establishing a concept, testing of the key features, and evaluation of a working prototype to help refine the design. The emphasis is on reducing the problem to solvable parts, demonstrating solutions to reduced aspects of problems, and extrapolating to a functional design.

“Often, ‘no decision’ can take the place of a decision – in design it can not – some decision must be made,” said LaVan. “The freshman-level design course, ME185, introduces many of the topics of mechanical engineering and challenges the students to make decisions based on their understanding of machines and physical systems.”

This year’s game is about transporting “oil” (colored water) from one tank to another – while navigating ramps, and avoiding obstacles and competing robots. The students have a variety of parts and materials to work with including aluminum, plastic, gears, chains, bearings, electric motors, and a range of pneumatic actuators. This class is also the first to have the chance to print plastic robot parts directly using a new 3D printer that directly converts 3D drawings into parts.

The program is sponsored by the Yale Department of Mechanical Engineering with support from the Faculty of Engineering.


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