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Student-built robots battle in 6.270 contest

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By Reuven M. Lerner

Don Hejna '89 and his Lego robot "Mr. Inertia" beat 20 other contestants in last Tuesday's 6.270 Contest. Student-built fighting robots battled in this year's competition to reach the top of a mound referred to as "the Mountain."

The contest, sponsored jointly by the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Six Appeal and Microsoft Corporation, was the third one in as many years. The competition is a takeoff on the well-known annual contest in Introduction to Design (2.70).

Participants, working together in teams, began their work for the 6.270 Contest during Independent Activities Period. The contest kits they were given consisted of Lego gears and blocks, a light sensor, and two ball sensors which could be used to detect the robot's orientation.

While previous 6.270 contests were programming competitions, this year's contest involved hardware, as well as software design. Each contestant was responsible for designing his own hardware interface between the robot and controlling computer. Programs controlling the robot were written in such languages as C, Pascal, and BASIC.

Hejna, an electrical engineering major, chose a new VCR as his prize. Other prizes included the computer programs Microsoft Excel and Flight Simulator, a Microsoft Mouse, Lego building sets, a Superball, and a frisbee. Every participant received a prize based on his standing after the five rounds of competition.

Participants and audience members were generally excited about the contest, although some expressed reservations. Wolf Schaafschmidt G, whose robot "Terminated" lasted two rounds, said that the contest was "much better than in previous years."

Schaafschmidt's partner, Ed Tobin '92, said that it "was definitely worth it, even if you lose." He added that one of the best parts of the contest was that it was entirely student-run.

Rosalie Schneider '91, a member of the audience, said that the contest was "hilarious," but she was disappointed "not to see all of the models work."

One senior in attendance thought that the contest was "really disappointing." She added, "most of the robots didn't get to the top [of the mountain]," that they were "unreliable," and that "maybe [the participants] didn't have enough time to work on the machines." Others echoed that sentiment, and added that perhaps the contest would have been more successful had the machines been more powerful, or the mountain less steep.

Karen Hargrove, representing Microsoft, said that the contest was "fantastic," and that "Microsoft is proud to sponsor such talented people and help in their endeavors." Hejna, smiling broadly after the contest, said that "it was a lot of fun."