Deterministic Design: Reverse Engineering


Everyone always seems to remember after the fact that history repeats itself and those who do not study history will forever walk around with backside binocular syndrome! Therefore, a critical step in developing new technologies is the study of competing designs in order to understand their design intent, and to hopefully identify and exploit a weakness or an opportunity that your competition missed! This process is called reverse engineering and it is considered a critical part of the product development process.1 2 It can also be thought of as a “prior art” search, which is the term used by the patent office.


 Reverse engineering involves physically taking apart a competitor’s product in a very systematic manner. Each component and its function are analyzed to understand each part’s function and why it was designed the way it was. In fact, in order to effectively reverse engineer something, you merely have to follow good engineering practice, as discussed earlier, in reverse. Whenever you get stuck, go back a few steps and then try to move back forward. In the case of a design contest, reverse engineering of the contest table itself can help to develop a better physical and analytical intuitive feel for the contest, as well as potentially uncover “keys” to winning. 


The ultimate goal of the reverse engineering process is to find a eureka! element that was overlooked by the original designer (or placed there by the contest designer for the astute competitor to find). Eureka! elements have the potential to be disruptive technologies, which are the holy grails of the design world. Given the tremendous potential of reverse engineering, consider the contest The MIT and the Pendulum and pretend you are reverse engineering the contest table and the winning machine: 


• Play with the contest table and kit parts to activate your bio neural net so the ideas begin to flow: 


• Look at the contest table and your kit parts and create mental 3D images and movies of all the elements and practice manipulating them in your mind so your bio neural net can work on solutions while you do the laundry. In your mind, disassemble and reassemble the table. 


• Touch the parts of table and kit and experience their mass and inertia. Connect a motor to a power supply and feel its torque. Can it rotate one of the pendulums? How could power from the motor be applied to the pendulum? Measure the period of the pendulums. Feel the weight of the scoring parts and roll them around on the table and up over the wall and into the scoring bin. Measure the coefficient of friction between each potential wheel material and different surfaces on the table. Feel the stiffness and apparent strength of each of the structural elements in the table and the contest kit. 


• Listen to the sounds of the pendulums as they swing, the scoring elements as they are pushed around the table, and to the kit motors. 


• Smell the contest table and the kit elements. Scent is one of the most powerful senses for recall!


 • Taste victory (or the resources if this is a food-based challenge) by imagining your solution is the one that wins! 


• Sketch the table and draw motion path arrows to illustrate the motions you observed that were possible. Sketch in kit actuators to imagine them causing the motion paths to happen… 


• Model the motions of the table elements in terms of time and motion potential and the forces and torques required. A spreadsheet or MatLab model will allow you to compare different scenarios that the kit motors could make happen; consequently you may discover the true design intent of the contest creators.


 • Create a simple physical model, perhaps a sketch model from cardboard, of a reasonable idea you have thus since identified, and play with it on the table, using your hands in place of the kit motors to move the elements. You can rapidly make many different sketch models, and then if one seems to be promising, you could even create a working physical model in order to run a bench level experiment on the table using the kit motors for power. 


• Detailed concepts should NOT be a part of this initial process, but rather they should enable you to discover the design intent of the contest creators, and help you to formulate different strategies for exploiting it. Building and testing whatever best concept finally evolves from the completion of your design process will be totally dependent on how well you executed the above. 

.  在方案初期,最好不要深入到细节设计,但是通过方案细节的分析,可以帮助你理解比赛设计者的意图,从而帮助你产生不同的战略来利用设计意图。最后实际机器的搭建和测试,都源于你自己最佳设计方案的演化。而机器的好坏,完全取决于你是否很好的执行了上述原则。

1.Otto, K. Wood, Product Design, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ, USA 2001

2.Karl T. Ulrich, Steveen D. Eppinger Product Design And Development, 2000 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Boston, MA, USA







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