Ducky Conveyor

EWB-WWU Ducky Derby device removes 20,000 rubber ducks from Mill Creek in record time


Walla Walla University’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders created a machine to improve the Walla Walla Exchange Club Ducky Derby. For this event, community members sponsor rubber ducks that race down Mill Creek in Walla Walla in order to raise money for organizations that help prevent child abuse in the Walla Walla area.

EWB-WWU is currently involved in projects in India and Rwanda, however they also facilitate a community project each year to allow students to be involved in community outreach. To determine where to focus their efforts, EWB-WWU reaches out to nonprofit organizations in the Walla Walla area to see if they can fill a need. This year, they decided that working to improve the rubber duck collection for Ducky Derby was the way they could make the greatest impact on the community. 

EWB-WWU built a mechanism to help with the collection of the 20,000 rubber ducks following the event, since having people wade into the water to collect them is dangerous due to the uneven and slippery riverbank. EWB-WWU’s device, the Ducky Conveyor, made this process much easier and safer at this year’s event. 

“The goal was to collect the ducks more efficiently however we chose to do so, and most engineering projects aren't this open-ended. The creative freedom and various challenges of the project interested the team and made it a fun project to work on,” said Giovani Ribeiro, senior mechanical engineering major and EWB-WWU student project manager.

The Ducky Conveyor is a complex machine, and therefore operates in several steps. First, the duckies were directed over to the conveyor, which was accomplished with the use of PVC guide tubes. Once the duckies started piling up, a scoop made of chicken wire with a wooden frame lifted a layer of duckies out of the water and carried them up the conveyor. Once the duckies reached the top, the scoops dropped the duckies into a storage bin. 

“It was really satisfying to see our design in action and working how we had imagined it would,” said Jared Allain, junior mechanical engineering major and one of the EWB members who worked on the Ducky Conveyor.

The conveyor was powered by a generator on site and ran at about one foot per second. 

“Even with stopping it periodically the people filling the bins with the rubber duckies couldn't keep up with how fast the conveyor was taking the ducks out of the river. We were told that what we did in 30 minutes would have taken them three hours last year,” said Allain, who will be student project manager next year.

Thank you to EWB-WWU for providing photos and videos of the PVC guide tubes and Ducky Conveyor in action. To learn more about the WWU chapter of EWB and their current projects, visit

Posted June 5, 2019

Close-up shot of the yellow rubber duckies floating in the river before being assisted toward the Ducky Conveyor behind them.
PVC pipes guided the rubber duckies toward the Ducky Conveyor, where they were scooped up and carried up the conveyor before being dropped into the storage bins.
Duckies stopped from floating away by a PVC pipe and are helped toward the Ducky Conveyor by volunteers with large nets standing in the river. Volunteers assist duckies into the scoops attached to the conveyor and fill the storage bins with the duckies
While the PVC pipes caught most of the duckies, volunteers with large fishing nets caught the few that ventured further down the river.
Electronic sketch of the Ducky Conveyor
The team discussed many concepts and ultimately decided to pursue the conveyor.