Events Report: The 2012 Inter-Chapter Challenge

On Saturday the 20th of October, in the middle of our Annual Conference at UC San Diego, we held the first ever Inter-Chapter Challenge. The overall goal was to build or retrofit a remote controlled car that was

  1. Solar-powered
  2. Used capacitors rather than batteries for storage, and
  3. Cost (or used parts valued at) less than $150.

The full rules and details of the obstacle course are available here.

In an ironic twist of fate, the ever-pleasant San Diego weather was cloudy and misty for most of the weekend (SDiegans - that's what you get for inviting a bunch of people from PA and NY). However, over the course of the morning most of the cars had stored enough energy in their capacitors to move around for a little while. We had five competing schools - Buffalo, Penn State, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), UC Merced, and UC San Diego. After interviews with the judges over lunch, the whole community gathered around for the two main events - the obstacle course (run individually), followed by the drag race (run all at once).

Three of the entries took a similar design approach - a large pane of solar panels on top of a stripped down wheelbase. Buffalo's contribution was a tiny crawler-based bot with supercapacitors entirely disproporcionate to its size, and UC Merced mounted solar panels on top of a standard RC car. It turns out that all of these had different advantages - Buffalo's 'Little Buddy' could run for a very long time without sun, but had problems with the cracks between bricks (and speed, in general), while Merced's car had the speed of your off-the-shelf car, but apparently required maximum power to turn - an issue when it got to the end of the obstacle course. UCSD's car didn't have the supercapacitors (they had made the geographically appropriate assumption that there would be sun and forgot about the aforementioned northeasterners), and wouldn't go anywhere, and while Penn State's car was too heavy to go anywhere with the panels attached, without them it ran around several obstacles on just capacitors.

The unmentioned as-of-yet but overall winner was RIT - the third of the 'pane of solar panels' category, but with all the parts from reclaimed or scavenged sources, and a good enough design that it could at least partly run off of the overcast sunlight. Combining good design with sustaianbility, it won high marks from the judges and also managed to get through two of the four obstacles (no one got all four), though it only came in third in the drag race.

When this challenge was initially proposed by Derek Chung and Zach Wilhoit in the spring, we really didn't know what to expect. In the end, this was a great part of the conference - 85+ people cheering for five different contraptions, in a splendid show of ESW community. We look forward to doing this again at the next conference, and invite suggestions for the next topic - send em to

We need to thank the four judges - Erin Rose Briggs, Ben Gould, Chris Lllop, Chris Thai - all five teams for participating, and would like to congratulate our winners:

  1. First Place, with the judges' award for sustainability - RIT
  2. Second Place - UC Merced
  3. Third Place, with the judges' award for cuteness - Buffalo.

The community looks on as the RIT car tackles the cones obstacle.

Trying to turn the UC-Merced car around

Turning the UC-Merced car around.

The winning car, from RIT

The winning car, in all its reclaimed glory - RIT.

Judges hard at work.

Penn State's entry.

Piloting Buffalo's 'Little Buddy' from its maximum effective range.

The ESW Community

The whole community, all gathered up under the [cloudy] San Diego skies.