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)

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.

MIT students can’t read and Harvard students can’t count

Yesterday’s broadcast of Car Talk on WBUR caught my attention as I heard Cambridge, my fair city, being mentioned. Tom and Ray read off a listener-submitted anecdote about a funny incident of a student from a certain university in Cambridge. The story goes something like this:

The listener was standing behind someone who apparently had more than a dozen items in a supermarket express checkout line in Cambridge. When the person in front arrived at the counter, the cashier then pointed to the sign “Express line: 10 items or fewer only. She then said: “You must be from MIT or Harvard,” the two big universities in town. The guy smiled and said: “Yeah, how do you know. The cashier said: “You must be from MIT because you can’t read or you must be from Harvard because you can’t count.”

Credits: MIT Logo and Harvard Logo

Startup Bootcamp 2010

Startup Bootcamp Logo Today I attended Startup Bootcamp at my alma mater to listen to entrepreneurs talk about how they started their companies. And the student organizers have done an amazing job of organizing the event and bringing people together. Great job and thank you.
Here are the videos covering the event. I took some notes during the event and here are some of the key take-aways:

  • Prototype early. From Mick Mountz, founder of Kiva Systems: “Focus on the product early on.” The first iteration of the product should be focused on getting a proof-of-concept. Don’t over engineer it (yet). There will be cycles of learning. Your product will be made bulletproof iteratively. Along the same line, Bill Clerico of WePay mentioned that you should not be raising money until you have some sort of prototype. I agree with Bill although this advice is more relevant to web or software startups where the product lifecycle is very short.
  • Customer validation or product feedback is important. Mick Mountz advise that entrepreneurs find 1-2 customers early in the process, especially those with the highest pain, to try the product and then invite them for feedback. And when you evaluate their feedback, as David Cancel said, you don’t want to be in the “middle.” What this means is that either your customer loves or hates your product. This way you know how to deliver a product that they will truly love. Ayr Muir of Clover Food Lab (they serve delicious organic vegetarian for $5 and under BTW) engages his customers by observing their behavior. When he sees someone who doesn’t finish his sandwich, he knows that there’s something wrong.
  • According to David Cancel, every entrepreneurs must ask him/herself this: does anyone care about your product? There are problems in the world, your products need to solve a problem and to make someone’s life easier. If you can’t get anyone to care about your product, the rest doesn’t matter.
  • Creating and maintaining the right culture at a startup is important. Look for good people to form a team. “‘A’ people recruit ‘A’ people. ‘B’ people hire ‘C’ people…” – George Bell, former CEO of Excite.
  • “Be prepared to throw away things” says James Lindenbaum, founder of Heroku. Hard work leads to understanding and clarity. The implementation (or code) is just a by-product. Don’t get too hung up on your product implementation. Startup is a learning process.
  • The ego of the founder(s) can lead to the failure of a startup – Bob Metcalfe, founder of 3COM.
  • You need to do a startup with a set of motivations. It’s a lot of hard work. You have to motivated and love what you are doing.
  • Alexis Ohanian, founder of Reddit, says: we need more entrepreneurs even if they are from overseas. The country needs talents to keep its economy competitive. Keep international students here to start companies. I couldn’t agree more.
  • Again, from David Cancel: stop reading Techcunch. It’s a distraction. Focus on delivering and pay attention to your customers to solve their pain points.

Since I am doing a startup (more about this later), the talks were inspiring and insightful. I believe that there’s no archetypical process on how you start a company. Even some of the points that the speakers made contradict with each other. That’s why every startup story is different. This is fine. There are many paths to success. But one recurring theme from all these anecdotes I heard is that if you have an idea, you need to start it. If I have three things to say about startup, they will be: just do it, focus on the product, and find good people – cofounders, employees, mentors, and investors – who not only share but implement your vision. So to quote David Cancel on this: #JFDI – Twitter hashtag for just f*cking do it. And that’s the real take-away.