In a mashup of 12th-century weaponry and 21st-century technology, employees of an area Google Data Center triggered a 6-foot wooden siege weapon this weekend with an Android cell phone, a computer the size of a credit card and a Blue Tooth receiver.
The action came during the first Storm The Citadel Trebuchet Competition on the parade grounds of the South Carolina military college here.
The trebuchet, a medieval siege machine built to break down fortifications, was used to hurl rocks, balls of fire and dead animals into and over castle walls.
They also threw dead people, said Dennis Fallon, dean of engineering at The Citadel, a military college with about 2,100 male and female cadets, as he watched trebuchet teams set up for the competition.
What we have done in military history is not always something to be proud of.
More powerful than the ballistas and catapults of ancient empires, the trebuchet used a long swing arm, triggered by the pull of gravity on a counterweight placed at the other end, to slingshot its payload into the air.
The brutal weapon played a large part in the medieval Crusades. According to histories of the time, Richard the Lionheart called his best weapon Malvoisine. Edward I supposedly brought about the surrender of Scotland's Sterling Castle in 1304 with a giant trebuchet named Warwolf.
The trebuchet made a comeback in the late 20th century among medievalists, college professors and fans of the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail in which a cow is hurled over a castle wall.
In the 1990s in Britain, armor and armament enthusiast Hew Kennedy built a massive machine on his Shropshire estate and used it to throw compact cars and flaming pianos across his field.
Saturday's competition was an effort sponsored by Google during The Citadel's National Engineering Week to support science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs in the schools, local employees said.
In November 2009, President Barack Obama announced a major initiative to support STEM education over the next decade to keep Americans globally competitive in innovation and technology.
If we don't build things in the United States, we're never going to get our money back, Fallon said. We can't keep being consumers; we have to be producers of technology.
South Carolina high school students competed along with ROTC members, engineering majors and corporate teams in designing, building and firing the trebuchets.
There's a lot of engineering principles involved. There's a lot of math principles involved. And it's just fun, said Jeff Stevenson, deployment programs manager at the Google Data Center in nearby Berkeley County, one of four public data storage centers for the company in the United States, he said.
He wore a black velvet jacket, brocade breeches, knee-high boots and a tri-corner hat for the company's Jolly Rogers team although he admitted the costume was inaccurate to the trebuchet's time. Pirates had gunpowder, he said.
The teams launched oranges and colored balls at a target 150 feet away, and, with a larger machine Google built for demonstration purposes, squashes, melons and bags of flour.
We're playing real-life Angry Birds, said Eric Wages, data center operations manager, referring to the iPhone and Android game in which, well, angry birds are flung at pigs.
The Citadel Cadet Chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers walked away with the day's Spartan helmet trophy for the best of the college and professional teams.
(Editing by Jerry Norton)