• The amphibious Bonk crawls out of the water in a student video shot on Boston Common.

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  • One team in 2.009 built a remote-controlled rope-belaying system for use in gyms and health clubs. Two seniors in mechanical engineering demonstrate the device; on the climbing wall is Luis M. Otero and behind him on the ground, strapped as a safety backup during the demonstration, is Oren Bernstein.

    Photo / Donna Coveney

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  • A frame from a video made by the Orange Team in 2.009 shows the Niveus snowblower being guided via remote control.

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2.009 students put remote-controlled machines through their paces

The challenge: build a wireless, remote-controlled product. The solutions: a snowblower, a wheeled and turreted water gun, an amphibious tank-like toy that shoots foam discs, a water rescue vehicle, a bartending machine and a rock-climbing device. All six products were highly sophisticated--and they worked.

"Product Engineering Processes" (2.009), the mechanical engineering senior design course, requires students to conceptualize, design and build a product in a single semester, then present a business plan and marketing spiel to venture capitalists, engineers and business executives who critique the product much as they would in the real world.

In 2.009--surely one of the most demanding undergraduate courses around--students must rely not only on their engineering skills (which are considerable by this point) and their knowledge of business and marketing, but must work as a member of a large team, developing the interpersonal skills necessary to accomplish the job.

And while the process can be grueling, when they come out the other side, students' attitudes are generally positive, as if grateful for the opportunity to prove themselves.

"In mechanical engineering land, this is mechanical engineering, because you actually work with a team to make a product from beginning to end," said Greg Townsend, a member of the Purple Team, which created a toy called Bonk. "It's an immense challenge, but it teaches you more than any of the other courses." He was responsible for the turret on top of Bonk, the amphibious tank-like toy.

Townsend, who plans to go to graduate school in film-making next year, made the video used in the Purple Team's marketing presentation. He prepared the storyboard well in advance--an excellent idea, as it turned out, because the Bonk itself wasn't finished until the morning of the final presentations. That day, Townsend and a few other team members headed to the Boston Common at noon with the Bonk and a video camera. By 2 p.m. they were editing and at 6 p.m. they were ready for their final presentation.

On that evening (Dec. 6), enthusiasm and a bit of nervous energy pulsated in the lobby of Building 34 where the six student teams displayed their products, handed out marketing literature and prepared to present their work before more than 100 invited guests.

These are engineering rather than business students; their expertise is in the products they've designed and built. But every year, several teams' marketing presentations really stand out for being especially sleek, creative or just plain funny. Short videos, frequently with a touch of irony, reveal the students' whimsical side.

The Bonk's video began with the suspenseful strains of the theme to "Jurassic Park II." The camera travels along close to the ground; fallen leaves blow into the air as it advances. The screen reads: "There is no escape." The camera catches the stunned expressions of two men in a park, which are quickly replaced by looks of fear as they turn on their heels and run.

Suddenly, the music changes to the theme from TV's "A-Team." Then, and only then, do we see the object of their fear: the Bonk. The camera follows the little 16-inch Bonk, as it rumbles along over small hill and dale and into a pond, shooting brightly colored, two-inch foam discs as it goes.


The Orange Team's video--for Niveus, a remotely operated snowblower--contrasted the experiences of two homeowners in a snowstorm, one lucky enough to own Niveus and the other not so lucky.

Taped at the home of Jen Fiumara, a team member from Winchester, it shows a New England home in a snowstorm as "Let it Snow" plays in the background. Stan Fiumara dons boots, coat and gloves and heads out for some heavy shoveling. He holds his aching back in the last shot. Next, the camera shows neighbor Bill wake up, have a cup of coffee, read his paper and, still in his robe and slippers, operate Niveus from the comfort of his warm house.

The audience chuckled throughout, but laughed out loud during a quick shot in the middle of the tape that showed Professor Ernie Cravalho saying, "I'll buy that sucker."

Josu� Sznitman, who made the video, said the team purchased snow three different times: twice to make the video and once for the final presentations.

"I'll remember 2.009 for a long time. It was tense to work with 14 people, but at the same time I met people that I had only known by face, and I got to know them," he said. "Relationships with humans are not a piece of cake. But the strongest part of it is that the team pulled together as one. That was the best feeling. We looked at each other and we were the Orange Team--one team."

Professor David Wallace of mechanical engineering is the lead instructor of the subject. Section instructors are professors Woodie Flowers and San-Gook Kim; lecturers Richard Fenner, Hamid Hashemi, David Meeker and Doug Vincent; and visiting engineer Chris Magee. Course sponsors are the Lemelson Foundation, United Technologies, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 19, 2001.

Topics: Mechanical engineering


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