Students compete to build largest toy

The winning structure was so tall that it had to be built by attaching sections from the balcony of Caruth Hall. (CLAYTON T. SMITH / SMU)

The Grand Atrium of Caruth Hall was transformed into a construction zone complete with caution tape, hard hats and guide wires over fall break, as five student teams competed to create the prototype for the largest toy in the world.

The winning prototype will be built 120 feet tall, about 11 stories high, in the National Building Museum in Washington D.C. September 2014. The winning team will be given an all expense paid trip to the National Building Museum to participate in the event. The students will also be featured in the Guinness World Records.

“We were looking for an event where one of the main focus[es] is to do something big,” General Manager of WABA Shannon Gray said. “What better way than to build the biggest toy?”

WABA Fun LLC, a company that creates and sells toys, approached SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering with the task as part of the Immersion Design Experiences.

“We knew about Lyle and when we started to mine for schools to partner with, the Innovation Gym came up and it was a perfect fit,” Gray said.

The Immersion Design Experiences, ranging from three to 10 days, is part of the Innovation Gym. IDE requires students to design, fabricate, build and test a prototype that solves their assigned problem. The students then present their solution to a panel of faculty and industry for judging.

“We thought it would be a fun event and students will be challenged in a whimsical way,” Innovation Gym Director Greg Needel said.

The five teams, Pony.Up, Octa-Awesome, Helix Castle, Failing Faster and Ambiguous Case used the WABA toy Superstructs to create three-story-tall prototypes over the course of four days. WABA gave the teams 20,000 toys to construct their prototypes, with each team receiving 4,000 toys.

“I had some preconceived notion what it was going to be like based on the students and what was effectively a toy, but it blew my expectations out of the water,” Professor Mark Fontenot, department of computer science and engineering, said.

The winning structure, built by team Octa-Awesome, was built from the top down in a layer process. The team created sections of the tower and then systematically attached them by lifting sections from the balcony of Caruth Hall.

“The tower was inspired by structural efficiency,” Caleb Pool, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering and mathematics, said. Pool, along with junior Michelle Kim, sophomores Christina Chase and Andrew Halverstadt will oversee WABA employees construct the toy at the museum’s September 2014 Big Build Festival and they have the option to help.

“The experience was overwhelming,” Pool said. “This IDE was different. It was challenging because we were taking a kids toy to greater heights.”

Team Ambiguous Case only had two engineering majors as part of their team. Josh Oh, a music major, and James Jang, finance major, joined the team because they were available over the break.

“They were both really creative,” said sophomore Eileen Guo, a team member and mechanical engineering major. “We were so structural and it helped to have different minds.”

The winning team will be required to continue to design their prototype until the build. The remainder of toys will remain in the Innovation Gym for other students to use and may be featured in future projects.

All participates of the event were awarded a $200 scholarship.

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