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Nerdkit Wins with Long Arm in 6.270

Thomas R. Karlo--The Tech
Two 6.270 students work on recording their video journal. The journals were filmed during the course and submitted along with written journals at the end by those students taking the course for credit.

By Ifung Lu
Associate News Editor

"Nerdkit" emerged victorious after the final two rounds of competition in the annual 6.270 Lego Robot Design Competition held Thursday night.

The robot's creators, Weihaw Chuang '95, Eng Keat Khor '95, and Timothy W. Kwan '95, were awarded bright, fluorescent yellow hard hats for their winning design. "We're totally elated. We didn't expect to get here," Chuang said after the competition in 26-100.

This year's contest, called Robo-Miners, pitted robots from 50 student teams against each other as they struggled to collect as many foam balls of "ore" and "unobtainium" as possible on an imaginary planet within a 60-second time limit.

Contest scoring was unreal

The scoring for the competition was complex in more ways than one. Collecting the balls of ore earned robots real points, while obtaining balls of unobtanium got them imaginary points.

Robots received double points for moving the balls it picked up to its own territory on the board and dropping them into a shallow bin. A robot could earn an even greater bonus by placing balls into one of the two air streams on its side of the table.

In the fiction of the competition, getting an ore ball into a robot's own air stream "transmuted" the ball into the more valuable unobtainium.

Further complicating scoring was inclusion of the j-device, a large orange foam ball, the capture of which increased the value of any ore balls the robot had already obtained. Getting the overall point tally involved a curious application of Calculus II mathematics: The final score was the square root of the sum of the squares of the real and imaginary points.

The competition brochure offered this explanation of the scoring: "Don't worry too much about the math here. Putting ore in the air stream is very good, but getting the j-device makes everything in the air stream worth more."

Winning strategy: mine ore

The competition produced many different designs, including scavengers, robots geared toward collecting unobtanium, and robots designed to place ore in the transmutation streams.

"We had a lot of ingenious mechanisms, but not that many had unusual tactics," said Owen B. Wessling '95, a 6.270 teaching assistant. "We really came up with a contest that we think is fun and interesting," he said.

Nerdkit's winning strategy capitalized on the large number of points awarded for placing ore in the air stream. It collected the four balls of ore on the left side of the playing field and attempted to place two balls into the transmutation streams with a mechanical arm.

"We went through a gazillion designs. The idea [of the arm] from a mechanical point of view was the simplest," Chuang said.

The name of their robot came from the electronic kits issued to Introductory Digital Systems Laboratory (6.111) and Computation Structures (6.004) students, according to Khor. "6.111 and 6.004 deal with computers and digital systems. This is our nerd kit," Khor said of the team's robot.

"This is the crowning achievement of my MIT experience," Khor said. "We're definitely happy. It's worth it," Khor said.

Robots arise from hard work

Chuang, Khor, and Kwan created their robot from the kit of Lego parts and unassembled microprocessor boards issued to each of the competing groups, Wessling said.

Each robot must be able to withstand physical stresses while performing its programmed strategy, Wessling said. "We suggest that students' robots be able to [survive] drops from 4 to 5 feet," he said.

Robots have to pass three qualification tests before being allowed to compete in the final rounds, Wessling said. Each robot must fit within a one cubic foot volume, emit an infrared light at a specific frequency throughout the match, and demonstrate an ability to gain points.

Robots satisfied the third requirement by competing in two preliminary rounds before the final competition. All the robots were then impounded to keep them tamper-proof until the final rounds. "We told [students], You must go home and sleep. You must go home and shower,' " Wessling said.