Courtesy Photo

The theme of the 125th Tournament of Roses Parade was “Dreams Come True.” Cal Poly’s float was called “Bedtime Buccaneers.” The float won the Crown City Innovation Trophy for animating the blue flowers so they resembled moving water.

Samantha Sullivan

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This year’s Cal Poly Rose Float attempted something never before seen at the parade, earning it the Crown City Innovation Trophy.

The feature: a system for making the flowers move.

The theme of the 125th Tournament of Roses Parade was “Dreams Come True.” The float, entitled “Bedtime Buccaneers,” shows stuffed animals, children and pets playing on a bed-turned-pirate ship. The blue flowers — meant to represent water around the ship — moved to create a ripple effect.

Construction chair and mechanical engineering junior Ian Davidson came up with the idea.

“We wanted to do something different and new, put something in the record books if we could,” Davidson said. “I was sitting there with two or three other guys on the team, and this idea just popped into my head and I said, ‘Why don’t we move the flowers?’”

Each fresh flower was stuck in a vial — a small plastic tube filled with water to keep flowers fresh. A piece of tensile steel was attached to the vial and then went through a hole. Underneath the hole was a pulley system to push the flowers up, program leader and recent Pomona alumna Erin Hines said. Everything, she said, was programmed through a computer.

The greatest challenge, according to Davidson, was trying to animate 1,800 individual flowers. There was a lot of trial and error, he said.

Davidson was sitting in the float at 6 a.m. when he found out they won the innovation trophy, he said. He was coming off a night of very little sleep.

“It was a really nice feeling to know that all of our hard work over the year was going to pay off in the next two hours, and the world was going to see the products of our team’s full year of hard work,” he said.

Hines said the team was hoping to receive the award. This is the first time any of the “self-built” floats have won the Crown City Innovation Trophy, she said, which was first awarded in 2005.

“For a self-built float that has limited funding compared to a professional float, we were pretty excited that we were able to pull all of our resources together and be innovative,” Hines said.

The float is also “California-Grown Certified,” meaning 85 percent of the flowers and greens on the float are grown within the state. According to Hines, 95 percent of the flowers on this year’s float were California grown.

Building a Rose Parade float takes an entire year. The process for the next project starts immediately after the parade, with the deconstruction of the old float, which Hines said they try to save and reuse as much as possible.

Once the official theme is announced in January, a concept contest begins. The contest is open to the public and anyone can submit an entry, design chair and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo aerospace engineering senior Jessica Brough said. Once the best concept is chosen, she and the design team draw up different ideas. The team then creates a final rendering, which is usually completed around May.

“It’s very overwhelming and jaw dropping to see how huge this thing is and on such a giant scale,” Brough said. “It’s difficult, but it’s also a ton of fun at the same time.”

From May to October, the two Cal Poly universities work separately, each building their designated sections. Most of what is being built during this time is the removable parts, Hines said. Around Halloween, the two halves come together.

Building continues until the week before Christmas, then decorating takes place the week after until New Year’s Eve.

“One of my favorite days of the whole year is when everything comes together, and there are flowers on everything, and everything is moving,” Brough said. “We take a step back and take a second to just take it all in.”

Cal Poly Pomona and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo have been working together on Rose Floats since 1949. According to a press release, out of 45 floats entered this year, the Cal Poly float is the only one completely designed and built by students.

There were about 50 students on the leadership team between the two universities, Hines said. Throughout the year, Hines said about 100 more students come and go, helping build and decorate the float.

If students wish to participate in building the float, all they have to do is show up to the lab in the Julian A. McPhee University Union, Hines said.

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