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Games People (and Plants and Cats) Play

Mike Hemberger(3)
Designing fun: balls whizzed as IED students presented their final projects in Academy Hall.
Seven sophomore engineering students have invented a game that is played by potted plants.
  That was just one of the inventions displayed Dec. 8 when students in Introduction to Engineering Design (IED) presented their final projects. In IED, student teams are assigned a theme -- this semester they had to invent a new game--and urged to push beyond mundane solutions. This year, more than 200 students in 38 teams demonstrated projects, according to William Foley, the faculty member who coordinates the course.
  IED illustrates Rensselaer's focusing of engineering education on hands-on experience, teamwork, creativity, and entrepreneurship, which is highly appreciated by the corporate recruiters who flock to campus each year to hire engineering students who have been educated to be creative problem-solvers. The IED students create such innovative designs that they received national attention at an exhibit last year at the Smithsonian, and some of the ideas are being patented, Foley said.
  In "Grow Ball," a plant scores points by growing past sensors that trigger the arm on a skee-ball device. Other features include a moisture meter to sense the dryness of the soil and water the plant if needed; a grow light that delivers the optimum amount of light for a particular plant and keeps it growing vertically; and electronic devices that record where the ball lands and keep track of points.
  Other IED projects this semester included a game for cats that offers fun and exercise while owners are at work, a competitive pinball game in which balls are controlled by magnets, and a table maze designed for restaurant customers.
  "Traditionally, engineers tend to be conservative people," says Burt Swersey, one of the six faculty members who teach IED sections. "We're trying to unteach that attitude. We are trying to help students understand that engineering means doing exciting things, learning, growing, fulfilling your potential, being productive, and having fun. Engineers with these skills will have the most satisfying careers, and they will be the most valued in the workplace."


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