UCF's Great Navel Orange Race 2022 celebrates a 25-year engineering tradition

UCF’s Great Navel Orange Race 2022 celebrates a 25-year engineering tradition

It takes a load of student ingenuity and lots of oranges to stage the Great Navel Orange Race at the University of Central Florida’s iconic Reflecting Pond.

Created 25 years ago by Professor Manoj Chopra and his colleagues, the Great Navel Orange Race is a rite of passage for first-year engineering students. The full-day event showcases the students’ hand-crafted self-propelled ships, which are evaluated on how well they can carry a half-kilo orange as they race around the reflecting pond. Boats must follow a required course, aiming to set the best time in less than five minutes. The boats that actually cross the finish line and win the first race heats can compete in the final races of the top 16 teams for the winning title.

Participation is a requirement for students in UCF Introduction to engineering course and represents the first practical engineering experience for many first-year students.

Students must design and build their boats according to strict rules that provide engineering challenges, such as buoyancy, propulsion, material costs, and trade-offs between ship weight and speed. The rules include a variety of banned propulsion methods, including some nontraditional methods that have been attempted in the past, such as compressed gas, pet assistance, and Mentos ticks.

Material for the boats must not exceed $ 80 and students must hand in receipts to prove it. Many boats on race day are seen with recycled soda bottles and low-cost material, such as foam, instead of the more expensive wood.

“Creating a boat that can carry an orange and run around the reflecting pond is much more difficult than it looks,” says the course instructor. Jacqueline Sullivan ’89 ’91MSa former UCF engineering student.

Sullivan taught the Introduction to engineering course for six years, and states that the goal of the nautical regatta – the laboratory part of the course – is to teach students the basic steps of the engineering design process by immersing them in a team-based project.

“At the beginning of the semester, students are placed on a team,” Sullivan says. “Along the way, they learn critical soft skills and technical skills that will help them become more creative and confident engineering students.”

Experience reinforces the importance of teamwork, project planning, budget planning, technical writing, engineering graphic design skills, and hands-on construction skills, such as welding.

“During the pre-race ‘test day’ in the pond, students encounter technical difficulties with their boats and work hard to overcome those challenges,” says Sullivan.

Fiifi Baiden (left), Francisco Perez Green (center) and Vinson Guzman (right) competed as a team.

Mechanical engineering graduates Fiifi Baiden and Francisco Perez Green, and computer engineering major Vinson Guzman, built their boat out of recycled water cans and bottles to keep costs to a minimum.

“We drink this stuff every day, so we put the containers to use,” says Perez Green.

They tested the boat in Perez Green’s pool.

“Our boat was going very slowly and started leaking,” he says, adding that the experience helped teammates understand the collaborative engineering process.

“We learned about practicality, teamwork and improvisation to achieve our goal,” says Baiden.

Sullivan accredits teaching assistants and graduate teaching assistants who play a key role in supporting the more than 1,200 students enrolled in the Introduction to engineering course.

“Many students who took the course and loved it returned after a year or two as TA helping younger students – they are good mentors for freshmen,” says Sullivan.

According to Sullivan, next year’s Great Navel Orange Race will offer UCF engineering alumni a chance to reconnect with the competition.

“We plan to involve pupils next year to compete and help students with expenses (through sponsorships) because 275 student teams can go through a lot of welds, welders, foam, glue sticks and motors.”

This year’s race was sponsored by the UCF College of Engineering and Computer Science, UCF Student Chapters from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

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