The 2018 Cal Poly Rose Float, “Dreams Take Flight,” features three young animals soaring in homemade planes above the clouds.
Bringing the Rose Float to life takes months of hard work, ending in a grueling but fun two weeks in late December when flowers and dried material are added to a complete, but naked, float. What many don’t know is that the design and building process begins in March.
Following an open design contest, a concept was selected from hundreds of entries based on how well it fit the parade theme. Next, a two-dimensional color rendering with element measurements was created by the Design teams at Cal Poly Pomona and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo using the 3D computer graphics Rhino software.
Animation mechanisms were being devised by mid-April. By June, the stars, kites, airplanes and animals were taking shape in pencil steel. Shaping the planes took three weeks, said Jon de Leon, chair of the design team and senior majoring in mechanical engineering. Meanwhile, the construction crew was building the float’s steel framework.
On Oct. 21, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo towed their half of the float to Pomona, and the two halves were joined.
“Two L-brackets on the SLO half serve as a scoop to help align the bolt holes,” explained Alex Brod, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, who is construction chair. “But the driver must align the halves within a fraction of an inch.”
In November, the project quickly begins to resemble the final float. The design crew shapes the outlines of puffy clouds with pencil steel around the base. Construction is busy installing the mechanical systems, which include the drive and animation engines; connecting supply/return hydraulic lines; hooking up the air brake and hydraulic brake systems; and routing power to the animation components and operator compartments.
“One of the most challenging things for us this year was space,” said Brod, who is working on his fourth float. “We are working with a much smaller and lower pod this year, which means less space to put things we don’t want seen. We have had to get creative about where we place animation drive systems, structural components and even people. At the same time, there are more animations this year because we have a larger team that was able to think of so many ways to bring the float to life.”
The largest plane will house five animation mechanisms and will ultimately weigh roughly 700 pounds after being covered in flowers and other natural materials. Most of the weight will come from its steel framework and animation systems, but deco material is surprisingly heavy, reports Brod. The smaller planes will weigh between 300 and 400 pounds apiece.
All of the animation will be electronically controlled through LabVIEW software through an onboard laptop computer.
On Nov. 18, the Rose Float passed its first mechanical and technical inspections. Conducted by members of the Tournament of Roses, the review included more than 120 items ranging from engine condition; fuel, electrical, brake and systems; drive train; and exhaust; to safety, hazard prevention and operator communications.
Just before Thanksgiving, the entire pod was covered in 400 cubic feet of creamy white foam that will hold thousands of individual flower vials as well as other natural material. On the wire scaffolding built by the design team, the foam resembles curvy clouds.
“Completing the pod,” says de Leon, “is usually the first major accomplishments for all departments. It sets the momentum for the rest of the project. I really enjoyed the challenges of creating something so large that required a lot of structure and detail.” This year’s Rose Float is 54 feet long, 27 feet high and 18 feet wide.
From Thanksgiving through finals, the students break from building, which gives the foam a chance to cure. Once finals are over, the teams begin a grueling two week period of 16- to 18-hour days, carving and detailing the foam, installing and testing animations and getting ready for the final technical inspection.
On Dec. 18, the float will be towed to Pasadena where it will be decorated with more than 55,000 fresh flowers and a range of other plant material,
The 129th Rose Parade will take place on Jan. 1, 2018 in Pasadena and be televised around the world.