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Cho is 2.70 AlFePETE Victor

By Sarah Y. Keightley
News Editor

You've undoubtedly seen them around the Institute, with white 2.70 Ford boxes on their shoulders or in their arms. For these students, last night was the culmination of long weeks spent designing and building a machine for this year's Introduction to Design (2.70) contest.

Before an energized crowd packed into 26-100, about 150 students competed in last night's final rounds of the annual 2.70 Design Competition.

After more than three hours of competition, Donald L. Cho '93 emerged as the winner of this year's contest. About three-fourths of the 200 students enrolled in 2.70 passed Wednesday's preliminary rounds to compete last night.

Cho, who is actually enrolled in the aeronautics and astronautics department, was awarded a trophy made of cans and topped with a beaver. Though most students in the class are sophomores majoring in mechanical engineering, Cho took the class "just for the fun of it."

The student's machines were built entirely out of parts supplied in kits handed out in class. The final machines needed to weigh less than 4 kilograms and had to fit in a 300 cubic millimeter space.

Project AlFePETE

The aim of this year's contest was for the remote-controlled machines to collect "trash" spaced around the playing field and place the items in their own bins for points. The trash consisted of aluminum cans worth two points, plastic bottles worth three points, and steel cans worth five points. The power for the machines was supplied by gear motors and pneumatic actuators for auxiliary power to control ramps and arms. Each round lasted 30 seconds.

This year's project was named AlFePETE, in reference to the aluminum cans, steel cans, and plastic bottles that the machines needed to collect.

The contest was played on a flat U-shaped table, with bins placed at the tips of the U. Each machine started in front of its bin. The top of the field was flat, and it gently slanted to the bottom, which was also flat. There were seven plastic bottles along the top, several aluminum cans on the slope, and steel cans on the bottom.

In the event of a tie, players whose trash consisted of the most of one type would win, but this was never a determining factor in last night's contest. If both machines had the same number and type of trash, the machine that was closest to the starting area won the round. This rule was used to decide several rounds last night.

The items did not count if they were touching the contestant's machine; this was occasionally a problem when machines fell into the bins. If neither machine put an item in its bin during a round, both were eliminated from the contest.

International competition

The 2.70 contest concept has spread around the world. University students from Japan, England, Germany, and for the first time from Korea and Brazil are holding similar competitions in their respective countries. This year's winners from around the world will meet in Tokyo this July for an international design competition.

The eight students who will represent MIT in Japan this year include the four semifinalists and four others selected by judges from industry and MIT. The sixth round determined that Cho, Kendrick C. Boardman '95, who came in second, Arthur Fong '95, and Mukund C. Venkatesh '95 would definitely be going to Japan. Professor Harry West PhD '70, who teaches 2.70, later announced that they would be joined by Andrea L. Jensen '95, Rhonda K. Howard '95, Alfred Hernandez '95, and Dean L. Franck '95.

The international competition is not of the same format as AlFePETE. Instead, students from the different countries will form teams and work on a design project together. It is an exercise in communication, "seeing what it is like to design with people from other countries," said Assistant Professor Kevin Otto, who teaches two sections of 2.70.

Before the contest began, West emphasized that the course's "primary function is educational," not merely "a show." He said he wanted his students to learn what the design process is and to experience the satisfaction of building a functioning machine. He added humorously that if you do not win it is "not because you're a bad person, it's because of physics analysis in design."

Design strategies

Joseph P. Feehan G, who is a 2.70 teaching assistant, classified most designs as pushers, elevators, and ramps with various modifications. The pushers included wheelbarrows and bulldozers and were "probably safer," less risky designs, he said. In addition, there were one or two machines that grabbed cans and tried to throw them into the bins, he said. "The ramp ones are interesting to watch because there's a lot of action," Feehan added.

Most of the machines were pushers, whose strategy was to remain on the flat top of the U and collect the bottles. Cho's winning machine was based on a ramp-strategy.

During the contest, Otto predicted that the machines that are fast and stay on the flat top of the playing field, gathering as many of the pink bottles as possible, would win. "The bottles are worth a lot, and the bottom is too much of a mess," he said.

John M. Feland III '94, a 2.70 teaching assistant, found this year's game plan "more exciting and interactive" than last year's project. It allowed students "more creativity in design," he said.

Cho said his ramp machine was designed to "beat the dump trucks." He knew that his design would be vulnerable to machines with an arm or similar extension, but he correctly predicted that most people would design dump trucks, or "pushers," as Feehan called them.

Cho said that it was "mostly luck," because most of his competitor's machines were dump trucks. He added that during the final round, his ramp was broken, so he changed his strategy.

Cho is looking forward to the contest in Japan. "It's great -- it gives me something to do this summer."

Venkatesh, one of the other semifinalists, said, "I can't believe this thing worked!"

West said that there were "very high quality machines this year." He was thankful for this year's motor donations from Ford and BGAM because the better motors "helped all the students succeed."

High school students involved

Three teams of high school students from Cambridge Rindge and Latin and Boston Latin also competed against each other in an exhibition match during last night's contest. Students from four high schools had built machines for a similar, smaller-scale contest with the help of MIT students. This was the first year that high school students participated, and the outreach program will be expanded next year, West announced.

"What was so interesting was having high school students involved," West said. He hopes to assimilate them more because these "skills are so fundamental" and should be taught to them. The program will continue to expand, he said.

During breaks before the final rounds, artistic placebos made by local design firms and former 2.70 students were demonstrated before the crowd. Also, Arthur Ganson, a local kinetic sculptor, showed off his machine-sculpture which gave a short performance.