Cliff Notes on How We Build Our Frisbee Thrower

Since I uploaded the videos of the frisbee thrower that my team built to YouTube, I have been getting questions about how the machine was constructed. Regretfully, the team dismantled the machine at the end of the project, team members graduated from school and moved across the country/world, and other than the videos, most other notes on the project are now gone.

I still receive plenty of messages and emails from people, especially high-schoolers and teams competing in robotic competitions, asking and requesting for more details on the construction of the frisbee thrower. I haven’t been very helpful since I don’t have all the answers (like the exact technique and parts that we used). I found some notes in my hard drive a year ago and post them to Slideshare.net. I don’t think they are very useful – they are most sketches of prototypes. Nonetheless you can review them here if you want.

The good news is that I do want to help people who want to build their own version of the frisbee thrower. I will try to talk to from other team members and hopefully write a more detailed article on the construction of the frisbee thrower in the next few weeks. Hopefully, someone out there can learn something and build a more kick-ass frisbee thrower machine.

For now, maybe I can shed some light on the frisbee thrower to the people interested in building the machine by highlighting some of the key elements of the machine. The following video demonstrates how the machine is build. Watch carefully…

YouTube Preview Image

I have also extracted and annotated the following still images in the video that I think are important:

Frisbee thrower prototype (cross section)

Frisbee thrower prototype (top view)

Frisbee thrower (bending the metal guide)

Frisbee thrower (turning the shaft)

Frisbee thrower prototype (adjusting speed of the drill)

Synthesize not just analyze

I just finished reading this post on Boston.com. The article mentioned systems thinking a few times, but it is the word “synthesize” that strongly resonated with me. When I was writing my master’s thesis, my thesis supervisor ingrained it in me that synthesis is just as important as analysis. I remember whenever we met, I would just report my findings of my research to him. But he would immediately stop me from continuing and ask me to synthesize a pattern, trend, hypothesis, or solution from these findings. He emphasized to his students the principle of first decomposing a system to its constituent elements (reductive) and then combine the separate concerns into a unified, coherent entity (holistic). He stressed that careful analysis without good synthesis is useless, conversely synthesis without analysis is almost worthless and can even be dangerous. Analysis and synthesis are complements of each other.

Since graduating from grad school, I am finding that analysis and synthesis plays an even more important role in decision making. Knowing how to perform a synthesis of any analysis is vital. However, while many organizations are either good at analyzing problems or making irrational decisions, very few are capable of performing both analysis and synthesis. This is why Lex Schroeder, the author of the above article, is spot-on to say that universities, industries, and think tanks should embrace a new approach that enable future leaders to “synthesize information, making something new and useful out of seemingly disparate ideas.” And I couldn’t agree more.

Picture credits: Applied Systems Thinking Institute

Frisbee thrower

Frisbee throwerA few months ago, my friend Yoav uncovered a stash of videos showing SDM students performing the development of a product in various phases of the project. The videos were shot in 2005 during the development of a frisbee thrower that our team built for the course entitled 15.980 – Product Design and Development, an interdisciplinary course at MIT that provides students a set of frameworks and tools for designing, developing, and commercializing a product.

I uploaded the videos to YouTube a month ago. And seeing the videos (again) today brings a big smile to my face. We had so much fun working on the project and actually built a working product that throws frisbees reliably. Great memories and kudos to team members Christian, David, Eugene, Matt, Spiros, and Yoav. Here are the videos.


We experimented with different ways of launching the frisbee from the machine.


The building of the frisbee thrower.


Field testing the frisbee thrower.


Demoed the frisbee thrower to the MIT ultimate frisbee team.