Competition Overview (via panasonic.com/cdc):
In 1991 Panasonic first introduced the Creative Design Challenge (CDC), a premier science and technology competition where engineering and technical skills of New Jersey high school students are put to the test. In recognition of their hard work, winning teams are awarded special category prizes, as well as scholarships to be used exclusively for college expenses.
Panasonic's long-term partner in this program is the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). While the majority of program funding comes from Panasonic, NJIT makes significant contributions to this outreach event. Three NJIT student interns develop the Challenge, while NJIT staff score the written reports, as well as provide judges for the performance and oral presentations of the Challenge. In addition, NJIT lends its prestige as one of the top engineering universities in New Jersey.
The Challenge will require teams to apply a wide range of mechanical and electrical engineering, and mathematical skills to be successful. Teams will be judged on the quality of their written report, oral presentation, engineering logbook entries, as well as the performance of their apparatus.
All teams are encouraged to use environmentally friendly materials whenever possible. It is also expected that all teams will utilize proper safety procedures during the construction and testing of their apparatus for this competition.

General Rules:
Each year, we had to build a device with a set list of materials that included items like popsicle sticks, duct tape, hot glue, wire spools, string, wooden dowels, soda cans, bottle caps, and paper. To motorize the devices, we were allowed to use small dc motors and lego gears and axels that Panasonic supplied to us (the amount of motors and gears/axels were limited, making the challenge even more difficult). In order to advance to the final round each year, we had to first pass a preliminary challenge that was essentially a watered-down version of the final. Each year’s prize consists of free Panasonic merchandise and a $5,000 scholarship.

In addition to building a device that could complete the given objectives, we also had to keep a logbook of our work, write a written summary of our robot, and give an oral presentation to a panel of judges.

2008: "Murky Waters"
Design and construct a device that can pick up LEGO people, descend into the "Murky Waters," traverse different terrains and surface areas, and climb various ramps.
This was my first year participating in the challenge. My team consisted of myself and two of my classmates, all three of us freshman. That year, each school was permitted to send two teams to compete, and the other team consisted of all seniors who liked to boast of their AP Physics B knowledge. Understandably, we thought that we, the lowly freshmen, were the underdogs in the competition. Having no prior knowledge of torque, gear ratios, or circuitry, we built everything out of trial and error. In the preliminary round, our device was barely able to complete a successful trial. The senior team had done very well, and needless to say, we were disheartened and we assumed that we would not advance to the finals. We even began to convince ourselves that perhaps it was for the better that we were out, for we would now have much more free time. To our surprise, however, we found out the next week that we in fact had not been eliminated. We had somehow made it to the finals. Right away, we got right back into it, completely scrapping our old design. In the next months, we worked around the clock to construct our new robot, even coming in over school breaks and weekends to do so. We put in the work, and it paid off. We won! Check out the competition video below.

Note: Each team had three trials to acquire the most points in the fastest time. On our first run, a spur gear in our drive transmission snapped and we lost control over the left tread, preventing us from finishing the trial. We were given about an hour and a half to fix the car before our next trial. The pressure could not have been higher. Even more stressful was that the senior team from our school did well on their first run and seemed like they were going to beat us. We kept calm, carried on, replaced the broken gear, and went back to win the competition.

Our logbook:

2009: "Beach Sweeps"
Design and construct a device that can clean up our shores by 1) picking up and sorting plastics and metals, 2) powering and lighting a (solar panels), 3) planting sea grass into dunes, and 4) moving an artificial coral reef into the ocean. All of these tasks are based upon real life initiatives that are used to improve our environment.
Coming off of a win from our first year, the pressure was on for us. In reflecting on our previous year’s device, we noted many issues that we were determined to overcome in this next challenge. This competition was much different from the last as it required we complete much more objectives under fairly generous time constraints, whereas the previous competition had us complete few objectives very quickly.

Similar to the previous year’s device, our robot was a tank design with duct tape tracks and aquarium sealant treads. This one, however, was much smaller and faster. An arm on the front had special grips that could pick up the solar panel, bottle caps, and place the cork in the pipe. Our goal was to complete every task possible, which included picking up and sorting different types of bottle caps and disposing of them in their respective recycling bins, placing a cork in a pipe, placing a solar panel on a light house and turning on the light by flipping a switch, moving “coral reef balls” into the marble pit simulated ocean, and plant the dune grass in the dune. All of this had to be completed in under 5 minutes and we could not knock over any of the various Lego people situated on the course. We were able to do all of this except for planting one piece of dune grass. Despite this, we still were able to amass enough points to win the competition.

Our logbook:

2010: "Pana-Plant"
Create a device that can sort various materials into respective recycling bins.
This year’s competition was much different than either of the competitions before it. Instead of requiring us to construct a mobile device, this challenge allowed for us to create a device that could complete the objectives without needing to move. The objective was to sort 5 nails, 5 marbles, 5 AA batteries, 5 wooden cubes, and 5 bottle caps into our own recycling bins. This task proved to be very difficult, as we quickly found that creating a device with the high level of specificity and efficiency to successfully sort everything quickly wasn’t easy. We went through many designs, including a crane-game style claw and a centrifuge. What we ultimately concluded was that a multi-stage device that would sort each type of item out individually would be the most effective. In the first stage, a v-shaped trough allowed everything except for the wood blocks to pass through. Stage 2 was a rotating bin with a slit at the bottom just wide enough for nails to pass through. Once all nails were out, the items passed into stage 3, another v-shaped that, because of a hard U-turn at the bottom, only the batteries and marbles could pass through. The geometry of the turn was such that the bottle caps could not make it through. The the fourth and final stage sorted the marbles from the batteries with a sifter, containing holes for the marbles to fall through into their bin. We were given 3 minutes to complete this challenge; our device was able to do it in about 11 seconds. This challenge required the most engineering and though out of all three challenges. It took many hours of staring at a white board to devise our sorting mechanisms. The construction of the device itself was also challenging, for we needed a high level of craftsmanship in order for the robot to run smoothly. It was a blast.

Our logbook:

2011 and Beyond:
As seniors in High School, my team took second place in our last attempt at the competition. The challenge was to build a device that could swim across a sizeable channel and retrieve various objects in a "forrest fire" scenario. Following the challenge, the head of the high competition division at Panasonic offered me a summer internship leading design and testing of the following year's challenge. I accepted the offer and went on to create a Mars-themed rover challenge that had teams build robots strong enough to withstand the "landing" impact as well as complete a number of complicated tasks.