April 15, 2019

Toy Fair to showcase ‘Purdue 150’ toys designed by engineering students

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Remember when your parents told you to “share your toys” with others? Now, Purdue mechanical engineering students are sharing their toys with the public as part of an annual toy fair that coincides with Purdue’s 150th anniversary.

Officially, the ME444 class is called Computer-Aided Design, but everyone knows it as the toy design class. Students learn concept generation, CAD design, finite element analysis, rapid prototyping and other skills necessary to work in industry. But all their hands-on learning takes place with toys, and their final project involves designing and building a new action toy.

Ramani fidget All the toys created by Purdue mechanical engineering students in this year’s toy design class feature a “Purdue 150” theme, including this giant fidget cube with a 3D-printed Purdue Pete. (Purdue University photo/Jared Pike) Download image

The toy museum will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to noon April 25 in the Gatewood Wing of the Mechanical Engineering Building. Visitors also will be able to watch this year’s students present their toy prototypes, which all share a theme celebrating Purdue’s 150th anniversary.

Why toys? 

“Toys are the perfect metaphor for simulating the types of projects that engineers work on in the real world,” said Karthik Ramani, the Donald W. Feddersen Professor of Mechanical Engineering, who started the class in 1997. “Everyone played with toys when they were little, so they all know about the experience. But in this class, they learn how engineers and designers conceptualize and create those toys.”

“You could cover product design in the classroom,” said continuing lecturer Min Liu, who now teaches the class. “But our very first class is actually a lab. We want students to get hands-on as soon as possible, and toy design is a scaffolding that helps them learn the design process holistically.  We call it the i6 framework: inspiration-ideation-imagination-iteration-implementation-innovation.”

As part of their final project, students team up to develop a brand-new toy, create a working prototype, and present it to a panel of judges at the annual Toy Fair. Through the years, students have created a wide variety of toy concepts, from a remote-control chicken and autonomous octopus, to marble mazes and hydraulic cranes. Some are built around high-tech microcontrollers and sensors, while others are simple puppets or board games that don't even require batteries. The Mechanical Engineering Building even is the site for a toy museum, where dozens of these eclectic prototypes are on display. 

Ramani toy Joey Baietto plays with a Purdue 150 fidget cube, designed and built by his team for the mechanical engineering toy design class. (Purdue University photo/Jared Pike) Download image

“We are very lucky to have this museum space,” Ramani said. “Every one of these toys has the potential to become an amazing product.”

 “The entire campus has embraced the ‘Giant Leaps’ theme,” Liu said, “so we are happy to help Purdue celebrate 150 years of innovation by showing what our engineering students can do with these toys.”

Ramani sees this class as a logical extension of the 21st century “maker” movement, which promotes technology as a means to create new items in the physical world. 

“The design element of engineering has grown in importance over the years,” he said. “That's why we encourage our students to harness their creativity in a tangible way. We also constantly update the class to include the latest technologies, like 3D printing and laser cutting. Put together, it results in a cutting-edge education here at Purdue.”

This is one of many events celebrating Purdue’s Sesquicentennial, 150 Years of Giant Leaps. This yearlong celebration is highlighting Purdue’s remarkable history of giant leaps, while focusing on what giant leaps, Purdue can take to address the world’s problems. 

Media contact: Brian Huchel, 765-494-2084, bhuchel@purdue.edu 

Writer: Jared Pike, jaredpike@purdue.edu, 765-496-0374 

Sources: Karthik Ramani, ramani@purdue.edu, 765-494-5725 

Min Liu, liu66@purdue.edu, 765-494-9351

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