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.”