Toy Fair celebrates Purdue's 150th anniversary

Remember when your parents told you to "share your toys" with others? Purdue's Mechanical Engineering students have done just that: sharing their toys with the public, as part of an annual Toy Fair event 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, and 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.

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 an incredible 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 hosts a Toy Museum, where dozens of these eclectic prototypes are on display.  “We are very lucky to have this museum space,” said Ramani. “Every one of these toys has the potential to become an amazing product.”

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

The top winners from the Spring 2019 Toy Fair are:

Best Engineering Award: Spindiana, Mark Bufanio, Davin Landry, David Lin, Christian Maxwell, James Sams.  This rotating 3D puzzle toy shows a set of famous Purdue landmarks: the Engineering Fountain, Mackey Arena, and the Apollo 11 lunar lander.  A built-in Hoberman mechanism enables spinning in and out, while the user twists the pieces to create one of the three landmarks.


Best Innovation Award: Rocket Racers, Alex Dunn, Vince Kaufhold, Sai Reddy, Ben Walters.  An arcade style 2-player button racer with multiple game modes. The main objective of the game is to get your rocket to the moon first. Stars twinkle on a cam mechanism to simulate a night sky, and the winner’s flag is raised on the moon by a servo-powered four-bar mechanism.


Best Market Potential Award: Boilermaker Especially Special, Brayden Gehlhausen, Grant Goldate, Ethan Heikens. This train is based on the Boilermaker Special, and is controlled via a smartphone app.  It is designed to get kids interested in mechanics by visibly demonstrating mechanical components that real vehicles use, such as a manual transmission system, a steering system, and a differential gear system.


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,” said Ramani. “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.”

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Writer: Jared Pike,, 765-496-0374

Source: Karthik Ramani,, 765-494-5725

     Min Liu,, 765-494-9351