Spring boat contest fosters collaboration between engineering, computer science and welding programs

Published by Robin Bailey on

Small welded metal boat sits on a school desk with an instructional textbook and mechanical parts around it.
S.S. Kyle was the boat used in last year’s race. A few of the Innovation Hub’s desks are cluttered with parts and instructional textbooks; the book being used for this project is written in French. Robin Bailey / The Mainstream

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to respect the privacy of an unnamed student and more accurately reflect the creative origins of the boat project.

The Engineering Club hopes to make a splash with their spring term project: a collaborative, interdisciplinary boat race, utilizing the creative prowess of students and staff from the welding, computer science and engineering programs

Man stands looking down his glasses holding a small boat motor.
Wayne Fischer, engineering program coordinator, demonstrates the mechanisms of a small boat motor, the fruit of a laborious project Fischer hopes will push the boundaries of the program. Robin Bailey / The Mainstream

Although a more rudimentary boat project took place last year — where students floated welded boats in a fountain and used catapults to attack them with ping pong balls — the club hopes this year’s project will advance their current capabilities.

In the Innovation Hub, the engineering students’ lab in Tapʰòytʰaʼ Hall, engineering program coordinator and club advisor Wayne Fischer points to the arrangement of kitschy objects previously made by the club, the “most advanced” design being a 3D printed chicken.

“This (boat) project is testing the boundaries of what we can do,” Fischer says. The club is already at work in using the lab equipment — additive and subtractive tools like 3D printers and computer numerical control machines — to make components of the boat motors.

A majority of the engineering curriculum, which Fischer works to modernize, had been rooted heavily in theory and less in assembly and real-world application. “When I first started teaching here, (the college) didn’t use the terms mechatronics or AI because ‘no one would know what they meant,” Fischer says.

“Well, they’re gonna know now!” Fischer says. “This stuff is going to change our whole world.”

Here, on a smaller scale, Fischer says change has mostly occurred through the ambition and tenacity of students like the club’s business manager, who has requested to be unnamed. The business manager introduced the club to the Voith Schneider Propeller now used in the boat project, sourced from a textbook written entirely in French; club members read through it with the aid of Google Translate.

Hands hold two different pieces of equipment for the club boat project.
Engineering Club advisor Wayne Fischer shows how the pieces of the club’s boat project fit together. Each student member, like the mechatronics themselves, brings a different expertise to the project. Robin Bailey / The Mainstream

In an email, Fischer said this year’s project and initial idea for inter-program collaboration was pioneered by mechatronics instructor James Mortensen, introduced in a previous article from The Mainstream.

The Engineering Club’s business manager stopped by to present their work on the boat project and gauge interest in inter-club collaboration at the Programming Club’s Feb. 23 meeting. “Our hope is to power all the boats (that the welding program makes) and have a competition— an obstacle course, race or test of strength — in the pool at the end of spring term,” he said.

The business manager showcased possible designs for the boat motors, answering the Programming Club’s questions about how certain mechanisms functioned or what different parts were called.

“At this point, we have a concept,” he said, “but the question is, how do we combine all these elements into a single working code?”

That’s where the Programming Club comes in. The business manager has been building the project with an open source prototyping platform called Arduino, which some Programming Club members share experience with — like Rory Jordan, the club’s treasurer and an IT staff member at the college, who ended up agreeing to help the Engineering Club code the boat motors.

The Engineering Club is open to prospective members of all levels of expertise, and Fischer is looking for students interested in work-study positions in the Innovation Hub.

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