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For Fourth Year, MIT Team Triumphs at Tau Beta Pi District Competition

By Stuart Jackson
Staff Reporter

For the fourth straight year, MIT won the Tau Beta Pi National Engineering Honor Society district design competition on Saturday, beating out approximately 17 regional competitors, including Yale University, Brown University, Boston University, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

The team of William H. Stadtlander '99, Matthew S. Duplessie '99, and Manolis E. I. Kamvysselis '99 captured the $300 first-place prize. The contest was part of the activities at the annual TBP District Convention held at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute this year.

Teams designed airplane carts

The team was challenged to design an airline cart that would alleviate the problem of stewards suffering back injuries while serving drinks to passengers. They were given four hours to prepare the design and a 10-minute presentation.

Their idea consisted of a motorized cart that ran on a rubber mat. The mat had two grooved tracks to fit the cart's grooved wheels. The team decided to use a rubber mat so grooves would not be cut directly into the floor of the plane. The grooved track and wheels also prevented the cart from moving during turbulence.

Many of the competing teams developed similar motorized-cart designs. The MIT team considered many other options, from using tubing to deliver drinks to the passengers to using a spring-based system to hang a cart from the cabin ceiling.

"They really didn't give us a lot of specifications," Stadtlander said.

The design problem "very open-ended" and wished the contest could have "allowed more creativity," so that the competing teams' "ideas could have been very different," Duplessie said.

Brainstorming was key to success

As in the local competition, the team used brainstorming and math to win. They "spent a large amount of time brainstorming to iron out the kinks in the plan," Duplessie said.

They also backed up their design with dimensions and a cost analysis. "We did a significant bit of math," Duplessie said.

Outfitting a 30-foot airplane with one aisle was estimated to cost about $5,000, Stadtlander said.

The team also made sure to polish their presentation, since half their score was based on presentation and half was based on design. "You can come up with a great idea that works, but if you can't present it, it's worthless," Stadtlander said.

The team enjoyed the competition. "I would recommend it to any freshman or sophomore next year," Duplessie said.

Kamvysselis added at last minute

The team of Stadtlander and Duplessie, along with Chad C. Souke '99, all mechanical engineering majors, was selected from among the 11 teams which participated in the local contest on March 18.

Kamvysselis, an electrical engineering and computer science major, was a last-minute addition to the team, when neither Souke nor an alternate could compete. "They woke me up at nine and they said be downstairs in two minutes," Kamvysselis said. The local contest, sponsored entirely by the local TBP chapter, was open to all MIT freshmen and sophomores.