November 19, 2018

By ERIC MCKENZIE

Spuds will become airborne Oct. 7 when Conestoga’s mechanical engineering — robotics and automation students compete to see who can launch their potatoes the farthest.

Students are invited to watch the fourth annual spud launch at the field beside the Cambridge campus at 8:30 a.m.

“It’s a problem-solving class,” said Henry Kastner, the teacher of the problem-solving and design course.

“So the goal isn’t the potato launch itself but rather the process of brainstorming, project management and design.”

The students have free range in the design of their machines, with the exception that combustion may not be used.

“I’m marking the students on accuracy, design and creativity,” Kastner said.

Some students chose to build air-assisted catapults and some chose mechanical-assisted catapults such as slingshots or trebuchets. One student even expressed interest in dry ice, said Kastner.

“It’s about half and half,” he said.

The potato catapult is the first of three projects assigned to the students this term.

Kastner said students are given very little instruction for their first project, designed to teach them through trial and error the sometimes difficult process of design.

“Everybody’s always gung-ho to get the thing launched but the report is actually more important because that’s how they show me the way they got to their end result.”

The next project will be to design an “unnecessarily complex” Heath Robinson machine, similar to the game Mousetrap or the breakfast-making machine in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

The final brainteaser for the students will be to build a contraption that can successfully pour coffee into a cup without spilling.

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