CORVALLIS - How do you design a remote-controlled vehicle that will safely transport heavy loads of hazardous material across inhospitable, rugged terrain without the material coming into direct contact with humans? Or a vehicle that is able to climb up and down stairs without spilling its load?

Teams of mechanical engineering students at Oregon State University recently designed and built functioning prototypes of just such vehicles as part of a hands-on design class aimed at exposing budding engineers to real-world problems. And on Thursday, Dec. 2, the student teams will compete against one another as they showcase their innovative designs before a panel of judges.

The event will be at 7 p.m. in Milam Auditorium, and is free and open to the public.

Devices built by 26 teams will each attempt to successfully navigate through a 10-minute challenge course while carrying as much rice as possible from a loading area to a receiving container. The course includes an L-shaped stair setup on each delivery loop.

The winning team will take its prototype on to the regional design competition, where OSU engineering student teams have won first place the past three years in a row. "This year, we have some very unique designs, so this should be an interesting evening," said Ping "Christine" Ge, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at OSU and teacher of the design class. "This is an excellent example of applying engineering skills to solve very real problems."

Load-delivery devices based on the designs developed by the OSU engineering students could be used in mining operations, agricultural applications, environmental cleanup situations, coastal preservation projects, and other applications where conventional automotive vehicles are not feasible.

The OSU class adopted an annual design contest sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineering, which specifies a design problem, and challenges students to find a solution.

"Oregon State is one of the few engineering programs that use the ASME challenge in the required curriculum," Ge said. "The class gives our students a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate individual strength/potential and creatively apply engineering theory to real-life problems. And the formal competition inspires young people in the audience to consider studying engineering."

OSU mechanical engineering faculty, staff and students will be on hand before and during the formal competition to answer questions.

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Ping "Christine" Ge, 541-737-7713