Yale Engineering Students Participate in Robotics Competition To Bring Down the Walls of Jericho

Once again, the annual mechanical engineering robotics competition at Yale University will be inspired by a Biblical theme – destruction of the walls of Jericho. While Joshua led the Israelites around the walled city, the priests blew their trumpets and the walls came tumbling down (Joshua, chapter 6). The public is invited free of charge to join in cheering for the most original designs and the most adept competitors.

The competition, which typically draws a large and vocal crowd, will be Monday, April 27, from 7-9 p.m. in Davies Auditorium at Becton Engineering Center, 15 Prospect St. It involves mostly freshmen, non-engineering majors who will be completing their final project for an introductory mechanical engineering design class. Last year, students adopted a Moses complex for the “Parting of the Red Sea” contest, in which the goal was to carry “Israelites” across the dry seabed. The previous year, they designed and built machines that could gather the most “animals” for Noah’s ark.

This year, contestants are challenged with bringing down remnants of the walls of Jericho that remain after the great tumbling (free-standing posts are worth 1 point, buried posts with a cross-member are worth 2 points, and buried U-shaped pieces are worth 3 points each). To accomplish the task, contestants have received identical kits of parts from which they must design and build joystick-controlled robots. They will engage in one-on-one, timed competitions in an elimination format until one emerges victorious.

An often forgotten part of the story of Jericho is that a portion of the wall was left standing in order to save the family of Rahab from destruction. However, the family pet (which will have an uncanny resemblance to “Handsome Dan,” the Yale mascot) was stranded at the top of the remaining wall. The contestant who can save the stuffed bulldog by bringing it to his or her side of the table will be handsomely rewarded with 6 points.

Co-taught by Yale professor Robert Apfel and lecturer Nathan Delson, the course is designed to acquaint students with the basics of mechanical engineering and to give them some practical, hands-on experience. Using skills they learned in machine-shop courses offered in conjunction with the class, the students have constructed machines of varying designs.

While the winner of the contest will capture a certain degree of glory and a yet-to-be-determined prize, students will not be graded on their performance in the competition, explains Delson, but on “how well their machine achieves their stated goal. The final contest is a celebration of the students’ efforts, and an opportunity to show that engineering can be fun and creative.”

For more information, call Elona Vaisnys at 432-4244.

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