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Box on Wheels Wins 6.270 Robot Design

By Christina S. Chu and Dan McGuire
Staff Reporters

After several hours and eight rounds of stiff competition, "Box on Wheels" emerged victorious in MIT's annual 6.270 Autonomous Lego Robot Design Competition, held last Wednesday in 26-100.

The robot, built by Alonzo Castro '96 and Jesus M. Muniz '98, defeated 40 other contenders in the contest entitled "RoboAnt." "It's called Box on Wheels because it's a box on wheels," Muniz said of the his robot.

"We decided to go with something that gets a few points and takes advantage of the precision" machinery that many of the other robots employed. "Everything worked out the way we wanted it to," Muniz said.

Second place "KITT 2025" was a victim of Box on Wheel's strategy. KITT 2025 was built by the team of Kenny Chang '98, Donald C Lee '98, and Erwin Tam '98. "We knew our design was pretty good. We were slow and that's why we lost," Lee said.

Robots battle for food

This year's competition challenged competitors to create insect-like robots, or more specially, ants. The "ants" were supposed to collect as much "food" as possible during each 60-second face-off.

The food was represented by styrofoam blocks. Robots received more points for picking up the blocks and stacking them on top of each other in its "nest," a raised rubber platform. If a robot could top the stack with a foam rubber ball, it receive double the number points, said 6.270 Organizer Owen B. Wessling G.

While the eyes and antennae of their six-legged brethren were replaced by infrared detectors and switches, the robots managed to do quite well. The robots' behaviors were pre-programmed by the contestants onto the on-board microprocessor. But this gave the robotic ants an ability not shared by the picnic variety -- the ability to crash.

Strategy a primary focus

This year, the organizers decided to provide students with pre-fabricated controller boards. "This year students didn't have to work as much on soldering the boards together," said Teaching Assistant Regina C. Cheung '96. "Students could focus more on the mechanics, strategy, and Lego structure."

Cheung also said they used faster, smaller motors with this year.

"We tried to make the boards easier to work with so that students had more opportunities to work on strategies," Cheung said. "Last year we just collected balls and dumped them into bins," she added.

Nevertheless, the complex point system gave robot designers multiple ways to collect points. It was advantageous not only to gather blocks and stack them with precision, but also to interfere with the efforts of others.

Robots like Box on Wheels and "Tequila 25," designed Jesus R. Diaz De Leon '96 and Miguel Ochoa '96, first gathered its own blocks and then tried interfere with the opponent's strategy.

Robots like KITT 2025 used robotic claws to gather blocks and place them into a built-in holding bin. Some robots had their fragile hands broken during collisions, either causing the robots to fail completely or lamely continue trying to pick up blocks with the detached hand.

Robots like third place "The Quaker Oats Guy," designed by Salman A. Khan '98, Aarati D. Parmar '96, and Shantanu K. Sinha '98, used a series of gears, belts, and elevators to gather and pile blocks on top of each other.

Contest carries across the ether

For the second year in a row, this year's 6.270 contest was carried across the m-bone, an Internet interactive video network, allowing people across the globe to view live video from the event.

A change from last year was that the computer, a Silicon Graphics Indy workstation, was actually present at the event and to capture live data from the array of cameras present.

Also present in force was MIT Student Cable, which spent several weeks planning the event. Fifteen staffers spent the day of the event setting up the group's suite of video editing equipment and four cameras.

"As student cable goes it's the biggest thing we do," said Lynn D. Gabbay G, president and general manager of MIT cable. The event "takes a lot of people and planning."

A new digital line was installed specifically for the event. It was "our best image in several years, maybe our best image ever," Gabbay said.