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Design Challenges

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Design Challenges

Solving Problems with Ingenuity and Grit!

Prepare yourself for some challenging times in this exciting engineering series.

Overview - Biomimicry






Biomimicry provides a method of innovation modeled after natural systems.  This Design Challenge is a Thanksgiving Themed introduction to the concept of biomimicry as students work to create a deceptively accurate, artificial representation of a turkey, complete with realistic sounds. For this challenge, please know that in addition to a boatload of sensors that can help provide autonomous sensor feedback, databot™ has a tone generator, internal memory, and a tone generator on board that enables sound playback.   Think about that, “Gobble Gobble Gobble!”

The Scenario

Biomimetics or biomimicry is the emulation of the models, systems, and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems. 

The Turkey is a large bird native to the Americas that we know very well due to its popularity during the month of November and our Thanksgiving holiday.  Interestingly, the Wild Turkey can frequently be seen roaming in environments inhabited by humans and during mating season can be unpleasantly aggressive!  

Brookline, a small town in Massachusetts has experienced this aggression first hand, to extreme ends, as the Wild Turkey population, once reduced to nearly non-existent, has seen a successful return to healthy numbers thanks to a statewide initiative to restore these native birds. From nearly extinct to a healthy population of over 37,000 birds is a true conservation success story!  Unfortunately, some negative repercussions are experienced from this success as people are pursued in the streets by these remarkable, but aggressive, birds during mating season.  

The Wild Turkey is a long time symbol of an important National tradition  that plays a significant role in both history as well as to the ecosystem in which it is both prey and predator.  Obviously, we need to live together peaceably!  The town leaders of Brookline have come together and determined a plan is needed to protect their citizens, tourists, and the turkeys. 

Through some brilliant brainstorming a solution has been developed – a Turkey Self Defense Training Center is to be established using town education funds.  Brookline citizens will be able to attend training and receive their “Turkey Safe” certification which will include various means of self-defense as well as a solid introduction to Turkey Psychology.  The town is excited about their solution and ready to implement as soon as possible.

The Wild Turkey has an imposing set of claws and a beak that can cause some serious damage if you do not know how to defend yourself.

The Challenge


This Design Challenge is based on a Request for Proposal (RFP) from the city of Brookline based on biomimicry – create an artificial solution based on a natural system.  In this case, your challenge is to produce a Turkey Robot that acts sufficiently like a real Turkey to be a good training aid for their Turkey Safe Training Center.  The use of real Turkeys in the Training Center would violate endangered species laws and could also result in injury to trainees – those birds have sharp claws and beaks!

RFP Requirements

There are several levels of complexity proposed in this RFP.  The Township has a tight budget and has outlined the minimum required solution as well as more advanced options.  The final contract award will be based on the cost and overall quality of the solution.

  • Level 1: The Turkey Robot must look, move, and sound like a Turkey.
  • Level 2: Level 1 plus the Turkey Robot will respond to external sound stimulus such as a shout or horn.
  • Level 3:  Level 1 and 2 plus the Turkey Robot will respond to motion such as waved arms, an opening umbrella, or a waved broomstick.

Good luck in your Engineering Design Process – remember the good people (and the Turkeys) of Brookline are depending on you.  Study the videos in the References for examples of Turkey motion and Turkey sound.  Be sure to Contact Us and submit your completed solutions for us to share.

Remember Your Engineering Design Process!

NASA has been kind enough to provide a detailed approach to the Engineering Design Process for creating solutions to the many problems our planet faces.  Here are the steps in detail for reference.  Go forth and design well!

  • Ask.   Ask questions to narrow the scope of the challenge at hand. Make sure you clearly understand the problem in full.
  • Imagine.  Brainstorm and imagine possible solutions to the challenge. This might involve researching existing solutions or previous attempts to solve similar problems.
  • Plan. From your list of brainstormed ideas,  narrow down the options and sketch or model the approach. Select what you consider to be the single best option that has the highest likelihood of success. This idea will be the single solution to prototype!
  • Create. Build a working prototype based on your design parameters.
  • Experiment. Time for testing! Experiment with your prototype and gather data to determine its strengths and weaknesses.
  • Improve. After gathering the data for analysis and identifying areas of improvement,  implement improvements to your design.

Follow the process and succeed!  Good luck engineers!

Design Challenge Gallery & Posts

Please send over your ideas, research notes, and works in progress to share with others,  If you’re working on an autonomous integration of databot™ with other systems please share with us and we’ll share with others.  Good luck!


Explore More Design Challenges in the Left Hand Menu!

Educator Info

Wikipedia – Biomimetics

Engineering Design Process and image courtesy of NASA, public domain.

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NASA Engineering Design Process Resources can be found at their BEST website. 

Stanford’s K12 Lab has some remarkable resources for Design Challenges as well as comprehensive PD programs.  Check them out!

databot™ Cave of Dogs curriculum module has additional background information on the cave as well as examples of how to create a simulated cave.