The 32nd annual Warman Design and Build Competition once again called upon students to use their creativity to avert (fictional) disaster.
Engineers are often called upon to solve problems big and small. But the disaster facing Gondwana, a small planet on the edge of the galaxy, could have destroyed its entire world.
An imminent meteor shower threatened to rupture a toxic waste storage site, creating an environmental catastrophe.
Standing between Gondwana and oblivion were engineering students from the Asia-Pacific who answered the call for help.
Gondwana is fictional, but the students are real; 17 teams from Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore competed in the final of the 32nd annual Warman Design and Build Competition, held in Sydney in October.
Since 1988, the competition has asked mechanical engineering students to use their design talents to solve a challenge facing the trouble-prone Gondwanans.
This year, teams were tasked with devising an autonomous system that could transfer 20 spherical storage vessels — plastic balls 6.5 cm in diameter — from a rectangular ‘ocean compound’ to a separate ‘inland compound’.
The transfer had to take place within 60 seconds — the quicker the better — and the entire system had to weigh less than 6 kg.
This year, a two-person team from the University of Auckland claimed victory with a device that got the job done in seven seconds. The team consisted of first-year students Juan Robertson and Kynan Wright.
Wright told create that he and Robertson focused on reliability in their design.
“We wanted to build something that would work almost every time, which is not only good engineering practice for the scenario, but also gave us a good shot at the competition,” he said.
“The day of competition went surprisingly well; we’d done a lot of testing the previous day, so we felt confident in the reliability of our robot.”
Robertson said the team’s testing increased its odds, but a drive to optimisation could also lead to unintended consequences.
“You make one thing better and it has flow-on effects to other components that you could never have envisaged,” he told create.
“You change one thing, then you change everything.”
This article originally appeared as “Saving the world” in the December/January 2019 issue of create magazine.