Exhibition features robotic inventions

Todd Milbourn

After recalling his roommate’s abandoned plants withered and dead along his living room windowsill last summer, Cory Ebbers got an idea.
“My roommate stuck me with these plants last summer, and I always forgot to water them,” Ebbers said. “So this year, I decided to make an automatic plant waterer.”
Ebbers, a University junior, invented his computer-controlled watering device titled “Sunny Days” as part of the fourth annual Mechanical Engineering Robot Show held Wednesday in the Gateway alumni center atrium.
The exhibition — the final project for students in an entry-level mechanical engineering class — featured more than 200 displays ranging from robotic drink mixers to computer-operated fish feeders.
In “Sunny Days,” the thirsty plant rests on a plate opposite a fan and is connected by a tube to a reservoir. As water drips into the pan, the plate rotates, exposing each side to a cool breeze.
As the plant is watered and fanned, a miniature speaker serenades it with the Sesame Street favorite “Sunny Days.”
“It’s great for programming during vacations or whatever,” Ebbers said.
The Robot Show is the culmination of a semester-long project that commissioned students to build “something interesting” using a class-provided computer chip and any other materials they could dig up for less than $30 at Ax Man Surplus or garage sales.
The assignment aimed to provide students with first-hand inventing experience, as well as foster creativity.
“This helps give students the experience and skills required of engineers,” said William Durfee, a University mechanical engineering professor. “It gives those who’ll be designing the next generation of products a chance to say ‘Wow! I can do that.'”
A jury comprised of engineering, art and architecture faculty, as well as private industry representatives, evaluated the robots on four criteria: operation, creativity, sophistication and reliability.
Mechanical engineering senior Nick Pfeifer scored high in creativity for constructing a computer-controlled drink mixer.
The invention, developed after weeks of trial and error, works by rotating a tray loaded with three bottles around a stationary glass. At the appropriate time, each bottle drops a specified amount of liquid in the glass.
“It pours three shots,” Pfeifer said. “You can mix different drinks with it.”
During the exhibition, Pfeifer said he received several orders for his invention.
“This is great; I just tried to think of something people could use.”

Todd Milbourn covers science and technology. He welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3231.