Invention Challenge Met at JPL

Photo by Lynn REPATH-MARTOS The CVHS Falkons Robotics Team work on their entry for the annual Invention Challenge at JPL.
The CVHS Falkons Robotics Team work on their entry for the annual Invention Challenge at JPL.


Jet Propulsion Laboratory hosted its annual Invention Challenge on Friday. High school students as well as JPL employees and their families were challenged this year to create a device that could deliver a golf ball in a “hole in one.”

According to the JPL rules, the device invented has to “propel and/or move a golf ball into a target whose center is located 1.5 meters away from the device. Only one attempt is allowed. The team that completes the task in the fastest time will be the winning team.”

“This year’s hole in one contest was a complex engineering challenge, and the success rate was markedly low,” said Lynn Repath-Martos, mentor for the Crescenta Valley High School Falkons Robotic Team 589 and an employee at JPL. “Of the 29 machines competing in Friday’s event, only 11 were ultimately successful.”

The two engineering classes of CVHS teacher Dr. Neat were one of the successful teams. Another was comprised of CVHS student Kevin Backes and his dad, Paul (also a JPL employee).

The students made five machines, three of which were taken to a pre-tournament where one qualified.

In describing the challenge, Repath-Martos said, “Imagine the most hated miniature golf course where there is a hole at the top of a hill.” The machine needed to deliver the ball into the hole without it bouncing out. This was done in a variety of ways. Glendale High School used compressed air; others, like Backes and the CVHS engineering classes, dropped the ball into the hole.

“What made this challenge so difficult was the requirement for spot-on accuracy (in the face of uneven pavement and potential wind, both variables hard to control) and speed. The CVHS machine, employing drawer sliders for accuracy, was successful in placing the ball in its target, but was not the fastest player,” Repath-Martos said.

The team did win an award for “heaviest entry” with their machine weighing in at 178 pounds.

At the end of the challenge, Alexander Hamilton High School took first place for the students’ division and Alan and Scott DeVault took first place for the JPL employee division. The Backeses were awarded the most unusual entry.

After the event, the CVHS engineering classes were treated to a private tour of JPL.

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