Written by Barrett Zhang
Physics teacher Bill Dunbar likes to set up new competitions for his students every Halloween to encourage creativity in students and adaptability in the future engineers.
Dunbar sets up these challenges because he believes that high school students have surpassed the time for cute childish antics during Halloween. “Most high school students should not be trick-or-treating,” Dunbar said. “They are too old and they are too scary.”
During his time as the Gunn Robotics Team (GRT) advisor, Dunbar challenged his robotic teams to build mechanical haunted houses every year. “It’s a tradition that lasted for years and year,” Dunbar said.
These haunted houses would generally include moving structures powered by machines to make them seem lifelike. It was designed in hopes that pedestrians would be amazed by the hard work put into the creation of the houses.
One year, Dunbar’s students built a two-story haunted house. “It was really tall and skinny and there were characters that would pop out of the doors and windows,” Dunbar said.
All would have worked well, however, the mechanisms that should have caused the house to move did not function properly. The complex figures that should have popped out and make the house come alive ended up not moving.
The situation was worse than those of other Halloweens, as someone paid GRT to work the haunted house on their front lawn for the entire Halloween night. Having already accepted the job, the team decided to have a student inside the house to manually work the machinery in order to avoid being discovered. “It was actually more like a puppet haunted house instead of a robotic one,” said Dunbar. The students set up at 6 p.m., popping the characters in patterns in order to maintain the reputation of the team. He stayed within the phonebooth-shaped decoration and was not allowed to come out for fresh air, for the bathroom,or for food. After six hours of working, the student found an opening where nobody would notice him and crawled out from inside the contraption. Dunbar was most surprised by the fact that nobody realized that the mechanized house was broken. “[The student] was able to sneak out so that nobody knew he was in there and nobody knew that the robotic haunted house was a sham,” Dunbar said.
For Dunbar, this will always be a special memory. “I can still envision the student attempting to sneak in and out without anyone else noticing that he was within the house,” Dunbar laughed.