Ship off the Old Blocks 2017: Rules

The Ship Off the Old Blocks project requires student teams build a device that can move four wooden blocks of different shapes from one location to another inside a box with nominal inner dimensions of 2’x3½’2’. The lid has a pattern of 3/8” holes spaced roughly 4” on center. The lid may be lifted while setting up your device, but must be replaced before any blocks may be moved.

Teams will be given 5 minutes to set up their device and move as many blocks as possible.


Each device must be designed and constructed according to the following rules:

  1. The device must be operated by a single student.
  2. No adhesives or damaging fasteners (e.g., screws, nails) may not be used to affix any part of the device to the box.
  3. The following power sources are not permissible: compressed gas canisters, chemicals, explosives. Electrical power is only permitted through the use of batteries; wall outlets or other sources of electricity are not allowed.
  4. ALL valid parts must be sourced from Canadian suppliers and be accompanied by a link to a Canadian website which lists the price in Canadian dollars. For the purposes of this competition, a Canadian website must have a “.ca” domain (e.g, <>, <>). Presence of any non-standard parts will result in disqualification.
  5. Items need not be purchased from the supplier listed; however, they must have a Canadian supplier as described above.

Performance competition guidelines

All performance testing will proceed according to the following steps:

  1. Prior to testing, each team will be required to bring a printed copy of their itemized cost analysis of all the parts used in their device. There will be a 5% penalty for failing to bring a physical copy of the analysis sheet.
  2. The device will be photographed and visually compared against the parts listed in the cost analysis. No changes may be made to the device after this point. There will be a 15% penalty for any repairs or additions made to the device.
  3. When timing begins, the lid will be off and the four wooden blocks will be located in the pockets of the starting wooden cradle. Teams have then five minutes to install their device and move as many blocks as
    possible. For full marks, the blocks must be placed in the appropriate pockets of the second wooden cradle.
  4. The four blocks will be each be a different shape as shown below. The initial positions of each block may change from what is shown in the picture. The final positions of the blocks may be different than their initial positions (e.g., one block may have to move diagonally from corner to corner).
  5. The lid must be replaced and secured before the team can begin attempting to move blocks. Neither the device nor the team members may not contact, move, or manipulate the wooden blocks before the lid is replaced and secured.
  6. The device must operate with the lid closed. No part of the device may extend out the sides or bottom of the box, but it can pass through the holes in the lid.
  7. All team members may assist with setup; however, the device may only be operated by a single student. Operator may be switched at any point.
  8. Once parts have begun to be moved, no part of the device that passes through a hole in the lid may be removed and/or inserted into another hole.
  9. In the event of technical difficulties, teams may choose to open the box and make adjustments; however, the blocks will be reset to their original locations in the starting cradle. Time will continue to run.
  10. Teams must stop all activity when their five minutes has elapsed. The performance of the device will then be scored. There are up to five points that can be earned for moving each block, for a total 20:
    1. One (1) point for moving the block out of its original cradle pocket;
    2. One (1) point for moving the block off of the original the cradle;
    3. One (1) point for bringing the block into contact with the second cradle; and
    4. Two (2) points for positioning the block into the correct pocket on the second cradle.
  11. The device must cease to contact the blocks after they have been moved.
  12. Teams are responsible for uploading an electronic version of the cost analysis sheet. There will be a 10% penalty for not submitting the document by the specified deadline.
  13. Problems or issues not expressly covered by these rules may be treated or penalized at the discretion of the instructor.

Cost calculation

The cost of the device is determined as follows:

  1. Costs must be calculated using the list price on an official website, regardless of the actual purchase price. Nothing can be free. Everything must have a cost.
  2. Item costs and calculations should be reported rounded to the nearest penny (i.e., two decimal places).
  3. All taxes should be excluded from calculations.
  4. Where items are sold in packages of two or more, the item cost may be calculated as a fraction of the total. For example, 3⁄4” #10 wood screws are sold in packages of 75 for $4.57. Therefore, the cost of three screws is:
    cost = 3 75 $ 4.57 = $ 0.18

    after rounding to the nearest penny).

  5. The cost of wood or other material may be scaled based on the number of usable parts that could be machined from a given raw piece of material. This is different that the area or volume of material used.
  6. Costs of consumables such as tape or glue may also be prorated based on the length or mass of material used.
  7. The costs of tools should NOT be included in the analysis.
  8. Cost analyses not submitted according to these rules are subject to a 15% cost penalty.


Two rounds of testing are performed using two iterations of the design: a prototype round, and a final round. Scoring during the prototype round is relative, whereas the final round testing is an absolute scoring system determined based on the prototype results. In both rounds the total score is based on a weighting of 70% for performance and 30% for cost.

During the prototype round, grades will be calculated using the following relative system:

performance grade = 50 % 1 + [your score] [lowest score] [highest score] [lowest score] cost grade = 50 % 2 [your cost] [lowest cost] [highest cost] [lowest cost]

Based on the results of the prototype testing, the following absolute scoring system was determined for the final round:

performance grade = 100 % [your score] 20 cost score = 50 % 1 erf [your cost]-$40 2 $12 2 Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail