About the Competition

Teams of students will compete with each other to build a Rube Goldberg machine. The goal of each team is to rescue Fanny the Donkey from a shelf 4ft off the ground. 


Here are some frequently asked questions relating to the competition.

QWhat does the Design Specifications mean by "Fan action"? (Big Ass Teams Only)
A: The thermal fluids engineers at Big Ass Solutions have been excitedly waiting for this question! Your requisite “fan action” means that you must move some air and, ideally (but not necessarily), use that moving air in your machine. We, here at Big Ass, face this challenge on a daily basis- and the thermal fluids engineers love it. We are all pretty excited to see what you come up with!

You certainly do not need to buy a fan, or assemble one out of your hodge-podge of spare parts! (If you
are able to make a fan out of what we gave you, we may offer you an immediate job!) The air movement
“fan action” in your machine can come from the blades of a drone, can flow out of a hair dryer or desk fan,
or you can start your whole machine by blowing a pinwheel. It is up to you! Just move some air!

QHow big will the cliff be? What will it be made of?
A: The (table top) cliff will, in fact, be a cardboard box (11" x 12" x 44") stranding Fanny 44" off the ground. As in real search and rescue operations, you will not know details about the terrain until you show up (Big Ass Teams: there will be more than just Fanny up there... although the obstruction will not touch Fanny or cover much of the cliff surface). Good news! Your team is allowed to determine where the cliff should be within the competition area. You are also allowed to instruct Fanny on where to stand for the rescue operation.

Good practices to adhere to and some general notes:

1. We caution you on counting on the cliff for structural integrity or stability (we suggest that you build your own modular scaffolding to fit around one side of the cliff if you plan on building off the cliff, like resting a ramp on the cliff).

2. While you may tunnel through the (table top) cliff towards the ground, we think that tunneling would be pretty time consuming. The box is made of thick cardboard (more than one layer) and will be taped shut at the beginning of your challenge, so do not count on installing anything inside the box, "under" the cliff. We use these boxes to ship product overseas. The bottom (inside) of the box will also be weighted to ensure your cliff does not topple over. The top surface is not made up of one piece of cardboard, but a two that meet together (flush) along a diagonal when the box is closed. The top is stiff and reinforced and can easily hold a distributed 5lbs.

3. Fanny will be marooned on the cliff by a judge, and the rescue operation should begin with her standing on the cliff (all four feet) and end with Fanny standing at floor level somewhere in the team's competition area. Proximity to the cliff is not necessary.

Q: Can we weigh Fanny the Donkey?
A: Yes! You may weigh Fanny. The Fanny that you rescue on April 15th will be, in every way, identical to the three foam figurines/stress dolls that you were given during your tour of Big Ass. Those Fanny figurines were sent along with your team so that you had a few to practice rescuing a sad, stranded donkey! The Fanny you rescue at the competition will be a new foam Fanny that Big Ass brings to UK on the day of the competition. Your team lead will be given a few moments to inspect the new Fanny to make sure you guys are happy with that particular Fanny. The judge will then maroon that donkey on the Haiku box "cliff," and you will be given the signal to start your Rube Goldberg machine!

You will ultimately have two opportunities to weigh Fanny: during your team lead's initial inspection of the new Fanny, and during your machine's actual rescue. Neither Big Ass nor UK will bring a scale, so if you need to make sure the new Fanny is still within your machine's weight limit, please bring your own scale.

QCan we attach anything to Fanny the Donkey?
A: The short answer is "no."

The Fanny your team will rescue at the competition will be a brand new foam Fanny figurine we bring from Big Ass Solutions to the University of Kentucky. Your team lead will inspect the new Fanny, and once they have said that the Fanny is acceptable, the judge will place Fanny on the cliff. The last person to handle Fanny (before you set your machine in motion) will be the judge, who places her on the cliff top, where you specify. When the rescue starts, she must have all four hooves touching the cardboard cliff top. Your machine may wrap a harness around Fanny, sandwich her between two magnetic surfaces, shoot a rope under her stomach, or shuffle her on to an elevator platform. At the end of the rescue, Fanny should be standing at floor level (0.25 inches above floor, maximum), unaltered. Fanny may still be in contact with your machine at the end of the rescue. When your machine has finished, the judge will retrieve Fanny and make sure she survived her adventure in top form! During the rescue, nothing should be permanently glued to Fanny, she should not be deformed or disfigured, and she should not be impaled.

A caveat here is that the rescue may begin with Fanny standing in a harness, or across a thin dowel (still allowing all four hooves to stand on the cliff). We encourage you to design Fanny's initial position and equipment with minimalism and speed-of-setup in mind, as you will need to coach the judge through preparing Fanny for her rescue quickly. We suggest that you plan on nothing touching Fanny when your machine begins, but this is not a requirement.

Summary: The only Fanny requirements at the start are that (1) A judge will place a new Fanny where you ask on the cliff that you positioned, and (2) the rescue must begin with all four of Fanny's hooves on the horizontal cliff surface.

QWhat qualifies as a "safe landing"?
: Fanny should land on all four feet. She should not be dropped or swept off her perch. She should not tumble, hang upside-down, hang by her neck, or somersault down a ramp, in the process.

Prior to their run, each team may place the cliff in the competition area where they prefer and specify where Fanny should be.

Fanny will be marooned on the cliff by a judge, and the rescue operation should begin with her standing on the cliff and end with Fanny standing at floor level somewhere in the team's competition area. Proximity to the table ("cliff") is not necessary.

QIs flying a drone considered a human interaction?
: Nope; We here at Big Ass Solutions love UAVs {unmanned aerial vehicles}! We have quite a few autonomous vehicle engineers working here, actually. So, on any given day there is a quadcopter flying around the office. We are happy to have you include unmanned vehicles in your machine.

For your challenge, though, each unmanned vehicle (including ground vehicles) may not participate in more than one step. All vehicles must remain within the competition area for the duration of the challenge. There is no height maximum for any of your machine's pieces, including flight paths of UAVs, but you must be able to transport the modular pieces, set your machine up in the time allowed (30 min), and you must not do any damage to the facility. The competition will be in Memorial Colosseum at the University of Kentucky.

BONUS: Remote controlled UAVs are cool, but ultimately not too technically challenging- especially if they are pre-made. If you build and program at UAV (bonus) or autonomous UAV (extra bonus), you will likely cause your judges to become very excited and you will receive bonus points for your efforts.

Remote controlled UAV or RPC (remote piloted craft): Controlled in real-time by a grounded pilot.

Programmed UAV: A UAV that has its instructions downloaded into it. It will execute the instructions with no further input either from a pilot or sensors, reporting on the UAV's surroundings. For example, these UAVs will execute a series of instructions like move forward 3 feet, turn 90°, proceed forward 2 feet, turn - 90°, proceed forward 1 foot, and stop. If something gets in its way, it will become stuck.

Autonomous UAV: These UAVs are the smartest of the bunch. They are able to problem-solve and make real time decisions (like avoiding obstacles) in order to compete a mission (like finding a red X on the floor within the competition area when it is released from different points). A Roomba is a good example of a simple autonomous vehicle.

General Information

Date: April 15, 2017

Time: 10:00 AM - 2:30 PM

Location: UK Memorial Coliseum

Competition Day Schedule

Team check in by Team Lead and advisor (do immediately upon arrival at Memorial Coliseum)

  •  Will receive staging location, where to put materials before setup

 Check in with judges (after arrival check in is completed)

  •  Present judge with log book and Team Form (will be sent closer to competition date)


  •  In memorial coliseum (hardwood gym floor)
  •  Access to 2 standard wall outlets plus extension cords
  •  Provided a taped off competition area of 10x15ft 
  • Timed setup (under 30 minutes); Can run practice trial during this time

Go time! (run machine)

  •  Judge presents new Fanny to Team Lead, who inspects the foam Fanny.
  •  Judge places Fanny where the Team Lead instructs.
  •  Teams will run their machines one by one, with minimal time in between
  •  Teams have 5 minutes (or less) to rescue Fanny

Questions asked about machine

  •  Judges will ask questions involving

           o Engineering understanding

           o Team work

           o Design process

          o Challenges overcome

Tear down and clean up

  •  Occurs once last team has finished their run and finished answering judges’ questions
  •  Must leave space as found
  •  10 minutes (or less)

Judges will do final scoring and compile results

Results will be announced and prizes awarded