February 8, 2023


It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a delicious starchy vegetable!
On Oct. 8, students from the robotics and automation program at Conestoga’s Cambridge campus put their building skills to the test. They were tasked, in groups of three, to put together a launcher that could propel a single potato toward a target several dozen metres away.
Family, friends and spectators were all invited to watch the potato launch.
Henry Kastner, who teaches the problem solving and design course and organized the spud shooting, was glad students had created launchers that were functional, original, and most importantly, safe.
“Their task is to fling a potato using mechanical means; no air, no explosions, no electricity,” he said, adding that each of the launchers had to pass a safety inspection before they were allowed to take a practice shot. The spectators – or spec-taters – were kept behind a line to make sure they were safe in the event one of the launches had problems.
There were a wide variety of launcher designs on display; from catapults and trebuchets to giant slingshots. Each of the carefully constructed contraptions had two tests – one for accuracy, where they had to launch a potato and hit a target, and one for distance where the farthest launched spud won.
John Tielemans, co-ordinator of the robotics program at Conestoga, said the event is a success every year.
“They learn a lot from building these and running them,” he said, “but the real success is that they start to work as a team.”
Robotics and automation students have several assignments like this one each year that test their building abilities, including making a device to hold an egg safely so that it can be dropped from the second floor of the Cambridge campus building without breaking, and creating a mechanical design that can pour coffee and serve a doughnut.