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California Impact

Shock and Aww: Rose Float Team Reveals Electric Design for 75th Entry

An artist's drawing of the 2024 Rose Float entry shows an eel playing electric guitar and other sea creatures with musical instruments.

Giant manta rays sway and electric eels power a rock ‘n‘ roll party on the ocean floor celebrating Cal Poly universities’ 75th entry in the Pasadena Rose Parade on New Year’s Day.

Led by a 16-foot purple manta ray gliding over a colorful reef, “Shock n’ Roll: Powering the Musical Current,” the 55-foot-long float depicts a rocking swim party on a coral reef with a trio of eels providing their current to electric guitars, a keyboard and turntable, honoring the 2024 Rose Parade theme: “Celebrating the World of Music.”

Designed and built by students, the Cal Poly universities Rose Float is a joint effort of student teams at the California State Polytechnic University in Pomona and Cal Poly.

Since their first entry in 1949, the combined team has won 61 awards, most recently the 2023 Extraordinaire Trophy, given to the creators of the parade’s most extraordinary float, including those 55 feet or larger.

“The team was very interested in the idea of a universe in which animals and instruments evolved alongside each other in an underwater environment,” said Quinn Akemon, Cal Poly Rose Float president in San Luis Obispo. “We really wanted to emphasize the idea that the instruments and animals were sharing a community and had developed a symbiotic relationship through music. The animals provide power to the instruments through electricity, and the instruments play music that flows through the scene and brings the community together in song.”

This year’s entry features a 27-foot vibrant yellow eel powering a guitar while his eel friends bob to the beat and two enormous manta rays glide over a colorful seafloor studded with starfish, anemones, urchins and a super-sized clam, that contains the phonograph. A piano keyboard swirls around the back half adding to the music ensemble.

Designing and constructing the float is almost a yearlong process for the team and includes fabricating, building, adjusting and fine-tuning the mechanical, drive and animation systems; welding the structural supports and shaping the design elements; testing decorative material; sheeting and foaming before the students can begin adding final design elements.

The Rose Float team provides numerous opportunities to practice Cal Poly’s signature Learn by Doing ethos. This year, the students are excited about creating a new animation system to control the movements of creatures and other elements on the float.

“Revamping the system that electronically controls our float mechanisms will improve the ease of programming and give us more opportunities to improve our animations,” explained Brooke Handschin, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student and the Pomona team’s construction chair. “If we are successful with the new system, we have the possibility of synching our animations to the music on our float.”

The Pomona campus traditionally builds the front half of the float base, while Cal Poly students build the back in San Luis Obispo. Design elements are shaped by both teams, who join the two halves in Pomona later in October.

When complete, the float will be 55 feet long, 23 feet high and 20 feet wide. Students will continue to build the float through the fall while balancing their studies and in a huge push after finals until the floats are judged the day before the parade.

“As we've developed this float, we've really continued to lean into Cal Poly's Learn by Doing spirit and tried to make this float bigger and more exciting than ever before,” said Akemon, an agricultural and environmental plant science senior. “Between interesting mechanism development, exciting decorations materials and larger-than-life eels, rays and instruments, this will definitely be a float to remember.”

Each campus has a core team of about 30 students who lead the planning, construction, design and decoration of the massive project. This year’s parade theme, “Celebrating the World of Music,” was selected by Alex Aghajanian, the 2024 Tournament of Roses president.

“In a world of different cultures, beliefs, hopes, and dreams, one language unites us all — music,” he said earlier this year.