Cal Poly float wins award at 2024 Rose Parade

January 2, 2024



Cal Poly universities’ float, featuring electric eels powering musical implements in a colorful undersea environment with massive manta rays, received the Crown City Innovator Award at the 135th Rose Parade held New Year’s Day.

The float was designed and built by teams of students from Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and California State Polytechnic University in Pomona. It is the second time in 75 appearances that the Cal Poly float won the Crown City Innovator Award.

“The Crown City Innovator Award recognizes innovations in technology and imagination and technology,” said Quinn Akemon, the Cal Poly team president. “This is the second time we’ve won it.”

The first was for the schools’ 2014 float, “Bedtime Buccaneers,” when students deployed about 1,800 individual vials for flowers at the front corners of the float to create the illusion of rippling waves. The animation covered 40 square feet and featured about 10,000 individual parts manufactured in-house.

More than 60 students, equally split from each campus, worked to finish the float after the design was approved by Rose Parade officials last spring. Workshops open to all Cal Poly students were held throughout the year.

This years eclectic “Shock n’ Roll” swims and swirls with a musical and electric current. The colorful award-winner dares viewers to try and look away. It tells the story of a detailed undersea community with larger-than-life creatures curiously living with electric instruments and musical implements — guitars, keyboards, a turntable and a speaker box — powered in a novel way.

At the float front, a giant manta wings its way along a coral reef. Behind, the large keyboard undulates across the sea floor, keys taping out the melody — Dengue Fever’s guitar-and synth-heavy instrumental “Lake Dolores.” One eel pokes out of a cave below the ivories, checking out still more denizens of the deep: anemones, starfish and urchins, while a smaller ray trails along the keys.

About 20,000 flowers and a variety of other natural materials provide texture and “techni-colored materials” to bring this underwater world to life.

“We definitely shot for the moon with animations,” Quinn said. “Our massive manta ray, on the front, tilts forward and upwards while also having the wings flapping, so it looks like it’s diving and swimming through the air. All three eels have animations as well. One of the eels has two, the head moves, but it also has a thin ripple like a wave along the length of the dorsal fin, which is pretty cool.”


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That’s the only positive thing that comes from Cal Poly SLO. Once a year on New Years Day. It’s looking to be another long year for the ponies.

Well, we can’t win a football game but we can sure build a float for other team’s football games. Maybe because of all the extra manpower we have every year around bowl time.

A long time ago I had the privilege of working in the Poly float. I spent a week putting roses in 7up filled test tubes. We camped at a fellow student’s Pasadena home – girls in the bedrooms, boys on the dining room floor. The home owner cooked 24 hours per day since volunteer schedules were very hap hazard (the food was excellent). As the first float was to leave the barn, it was too wide to get through the door – several Poly engineer students with slide rules in hand calculated the force needed on the supports to get the float on its way to the 4 a.m. staging. Great memories.