On the afternoon of Saturday, October 20, Union Board hosted the 14th annual Pumpkin Launch, which occurred at 1 p.m. on Ed Glancy Field. Two teams competed this year: Illinois Tech Robotics (ITR) as well as the Society of Physics Students (SPS). Both teams have competed in the competition consistently every year throughout the recent past, although ITR was unable to compete last minute last year due to the fact that the event was rescheduled due to weather. The 2016 Pumpkin Launch was reminiscent of this one, however, in which SPS and ITR came head-to-head with no other teams present. The two teams showcased two very different types of pumpkin launchers. SPS came with a “slingshot” type launcher, while ITR came with a centripetal force launcher.
For the past four years, SPS has come to the competition with a “slingshot” pumpkin launcher, improving on their design each time. In 2015, the team used metal springs as the provider of force, but in 2016 the team transitioned to using elastic instead, doing the same in both 2017 and 2018. This year, the team decided to use elastic workout bands. These bands were stretched back using a winch and then released, propelling the pumpkin forward. The launcher was lovingly named the “Bunker Chunker” after Physics Department Chair Dr. Grant Bunker, name coined by Illinois Tech alumnus Reno Fera-Ducatt.
ITR’s design, called “C-Force Mach 5,” was a centripetal force launcher with a metal frame that used a spinning arm which was designed to released a pumpkin at the prime time to launch the greatest distance. According to their website, "A 5HP, 3 phase industrial motor and variable frequency drive is used to spin up the launching arm to approximately 200 RPM and then a second custom designed control system releases the pumpkin on command from a laptop connected via WiFi."
The day of the competition was quite cold, with some actual snow flurries showing up to the competition just before launch. Luckily, audience members were able to warm themselves with coffee and hot cocoa; Resident Hall Association also had a free pumpkin carving station located near the field.
Unfortunately, the ITR team experienced some technical difficulties that stalled the first launch, so SPS agreed to complete all three of their launches first. It looked like rain was on the way, so Union Board organizers were eager to get all launches completed as soon as possible. SPS’ top launches went distances of 80 and 109 feet, which team members were very pleased with.
“I'm very proud of our team this year!” said SPS Vice President of Projects and Pumpkin Launch Team Manager Noah Samuelson. “We had a lot of fun putting together the launcher and I'm very satisfied with how it performed. Also, I appreciate Union Board putting together the event; competing with the other student orgs is a great SPS tradition now and I hope to see the event continue and grow in the future!”
Due to the fact that Mach 5 could potentially be very dangerous to traffic if accidentally launched backwards, Public Safety was instructed to temporarily stop traffic on 31st Street while Mach 5’s arm was spinning. ITR launched only one time, and the pumpkin was released from the arm at the improper time, causing the launch to fall much shorter of the maximum potential Mach 5 possessed. Although the distance of this launch was not recorded, it fell approximately 20 feet. Immediately after this launch, not only did ITR experience further technical difficulties, it started to rain. Due to the fact that the launcher required a laptop to run, which could not be exposed to the elements, the team decided not to complete any further launches.
Fundraising Chair Emma Farquharson said, “I think even though we only got to launch once that it was an amazing effort from the entire ITR team. A good amount of alumni even came out to help us set everything up, which was awesome. I was really impressed with the willingness of the team to stay up really late for set up Friday night, and help take it down today. There obviously were some problems. ... We mainly had trouble getting the encoder up, and for it to stay up as the first time we launch the encoder detached, fell, and broke. That's why we could only launch once (at the wrong launch angle) because it would've taken upwards of 30-40 [minutes] to re-attach the encoder, so that's when we decided to just take it down. The entire ITR team is excited for next year, as we know we'll be able to improve C-Force Mach 5 to C-Force Mach 6. Until then, we have an internal Roombotics program ongoing as well as in the spring semester we'll be preparing our robots to, once again, attend MRDC.”
While SPS won awards for both distance and accuracy, ITR won the award for crowd favorite. With any luck, next year’s Pumpkin Launch will be treated to more pleasant weather. Be on the lookout for SPS and ITR’s teams competing next year-- and hopefully many more!
Photos by Estlin Mendez (They/Them)