Gas station without pumps

2011 November 29

West Point Bridge Designer 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 08:31
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I wasted half a day playing with West Point Bridge Designer 2011, a free game released as part of a contest each year by West Point. I have been unable to get to the contest web page for more details that what is incorporated into the game software.  So far as I can tell, the contest is for middle school and high school students to design a bridge that meets load limitation requirements for the lowest possible cost.  The cost model is simple, but tricky, as it includes costs for both the weight of the different sorts of steels and the number of different dimensions of tubes that are needed, as well as the number of connectors.  The costs of excavation, fill, and abutments are also estimated.

Each year West Point releases a new version of the software with a new bridge-design challenge, and with various upgrades to the software.  Older versions of the software ran only on Windows, but the 2011 version runs on Mac OS X as well, and there is some talk in the documentation that they might support Linux in future (if there is demand).

Sample designs are given, but they are ridiculously overbuilt—much more expensive than even my first try at building a bridge, when I didn’t even know the cost model, but was just building a bridge that looked pretty and making the beams thicker until it held up.  I suppose they were included to make kids feel good about their design skills fairly quickly.

One of my cheaper bridges (around $167k, starting from a 3-hinge arch with Pratt truss, though the center now looks more like a Warren truss. The animation has crisper images, but with bad aliasing artifacts, so I deliberately blurred this image a little before down-sampling

The software gives templates for some standard trusses (Howe, Warren, and Pratt), which helps particularly in creating arch bridges.  I’ve not played around much with other sorts of bridges, but I managed to make several different arch bridges for about $167k (with the symmetric load—it took me about $170k for the asymmetric load).  For all of them, I modified a Pratt truss, as it seemed to be the cheapest for the needed strength.  Tweaking got me something between a Pratt and a Warren truss.

In the animation, the bridges flex rather alarmingly, because the vertical deflection is exaggerated, unless you turn that feature off in the animation controls.

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18 Comments »

  1. can you please email me this bridge? i need help and we’re supposed to get our bridges to be under 170,000 for class and i just can’t do it.

    Comment by Student — 2011 November 29 @ 17:08 | Reply

    • No, it is not my job to help students cheat on their homework. The picture might give you some clues about how I did it, though (like what height and style the bridge was).

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2011 November 29 @ 18:29 | Reply

  2. [...] was wondering why my old post West Point Bridge Designer 2011 was getting so many hits recently, all from searches.  Then it occurred to me that the 2012 [...]

    Pingback by West Point Bridge Design Contest 2012 « Gas station without pumps — 2012 March 3 @ 18:38 | Reply

  3. Your bridge seems extremely well designed, may you please send me a copy of the bridge for my students.

    Thanks!!

    Comment by Smart teacher — 2012 March 28 @ 16:46 | Reply

    • I do not wish to provide students with solutions to puzzles. The picture gives enough hints that students should be able to come close to duplicating it with a little effort. The learning comes from playing with the design, not with being handed one.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2012 March 28 @ 16:59 | Reply

  4. I would Just like to see if the bridge actually works because I’ve had a couple other people send me a copy of theirs and they said they had their prices at about $176,000 and their bridges all failed when I tried them and I did not alter them in any way, shape, or form

    Comment by Smart teacher — 2012 March 28 @ 19:04 | Reply

    • In separate e-mail, I have sent download information to the teacher (using the official school e-mail address).

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2012 March 28 @ 20:18 | Reply

  5. [...] past week, making it my most-viewed post ever with over 6000 views. (My second most-viewed post is West Point Bridge Designer 2011, which I believe is mainly being viewed by middle schoolers trying to cheat on bridge-design [...]

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  10. You should e-mail me this because my class just recently had a project with this and our lowest was only 2k above yours.

    Comment by Elliott — 2013 February 5 @ 06:09 | Reply

    • Have your teacher send me a verifiable teacher e-mail address, and I’ll send him or her a copy of the design. I won’t knowingly send it to students trying to cheat on their homework. The truss design can be approximately copied from the picture, of course, but there is still a lot of optimization needed after that.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2013 February 5 @ 07:59 | Reply

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