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'Iron Maiden' Crushes Opponents in 6.270 Lego Robot Competition

By Thomas R. Karlo
Executive Editor

Three seniors accomplished a goal they set out to achieve as freshmen, winning Wednesday night's 6.270 Autonomous Lego Robot Design competition with their entry, "Iron Maiden." Danilo D. Almeida '97, Michael P. Schmidt-Lange '97, and Derek W. Truesdale '97 beat 39 other teams to win the competition, dominating the evening's double-elimination tournament without a single loss.

This year's contest, entitled "RoboRats," challenged competitors to build robots, or "rats" that would collect the most foam blocks from the playing field during a 60-second round. To make the blocks easier to manipulate, each block face had a hole so that robots could impale the blocks to maneuver them.

Organizers amended the contest rules midway through the contest to require robots to move the blocks in the center of the table before they could receive points for possessing the blocks.

A varying number of points were awarded for collecting neutral blocks from the middle of the table, an opponent's blocks, or moving those blocks to the shelf on the robot's home side of the contest table.

The winning trio, who originally had decided to team up while freshman roommates, had been lotteried out of the oversubscribed class for three years before finally being admitted this year. "It's been our dream since" freshman year, Schmidt-Lange said.

The team's robot employed a strategy of driving over the rows of blocks, lowering a set of rods through the holes in the blocks, and then lifting them. "At first, we were just going to impale them, but then the rule change forced us to move them," Truesdale said.

Placing second was "Moo Cow," built by Praveen Ghanta '99, Terrance Harmon '99, and Amit Khetan '99. This robot's strategy was to quickly grab blocks and then attack the opposing robot, hopefully pinning or confusing it.

The mechanical components of the robots are built using Lego pieces, while the "brains" were provided by an onboard processor.

Contestants received the processor board with most of the electronic components already in place, and built other items like the sensors that robots used to navigate during the contest as well as the infrared beacons all robots were required to carry. The beacons allowed competing robots to "see" each other by using infrared sensors to look for the beacon's signal.

This year's contest table was designed to encourage interaction between competing robots, something organizers hoped would result in a more interesting final competition.

Robots employed strategies ranging from forklifts meant to pick up the blocks from the center and carry them to the shelf on the end of the table to others that grabbed a few blocks and then pursued their opponent, hoping to block or confuse them.

Team faced stiff competition

"There were a couple of teams really scaring us," Truesdale said. A critical matchup for Iron Maiden was against "Boucho,"the creation of Adrian B. Danieli '97, Brian A. Zabel '97, Janet Marques '98.

Boucho scored 84 points in the first round of the evening, the largest number of points scored in any single round during the competition. It was "an overwhelming victory," said contest organizer Geoffrey Phillippe '95.

The robot used a forklift strategy, lifting half of the blocks in the center of the table and moving them to the shelf on its side of the table.

During the fifth-round faceoff between these two top competitors, strategies collided as Boucho impaled twelve blocks from the side while Iron Maiden drove its pincers into the same blocks from above. At the end of the round, the robots remained locked together, their mechanisms intersecting in the captured blocks.

After some deliberation, the contest judges awarded joint possession of the blocks, giving each robot half the value of those blocks trapped between them. Iron Maiden emerged the victor, 4136, because of the blocks it had picked up on the other side of the table's center.

Iron Maiden "was the only robot we were really scared of," Marques said.

Event was well attended

The competition, along with the 2.70 contest for Design and Manufacturing I (2.007), continues to be one of MIT's biggest spectator events, with a large live audience as well as many watching the event on MITStudent Cable. The contest venue, 26-100, was filled to capacity as some audience members sat in the aisles and stood in the back of the room during the three-hour event.

"We do have school pride," said Amy Kang '99, who was among the live audience.

Some audience members came from farther away; Ryland Bennet and Siman Wechsler, both nine years old, came with their father from Belmont, Mass. to watch. "These robots are amazing," Bennett said.

Other audience members came because of friends or relatives participating in the competition or because they were competitors in previous years.

"There are a lot of people who think this is cool," said Roberto M. Aimi '97. Aimi participated in the contest during his freshman year.

The contest was run by a team of organizers and teaching assistants, most of whom are current students who participated as contestants in past years.

Funding and equipment for the contest was provided by theDepartment of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Microsoft, Motorola, Legodacta, and several other companies.

Teams were charged a $150 fee to enter, but the components provided to them were worth several times that amount, and become the property of the team members following the competition.

This year's tournament was broadcast on MIT Student Cable, and could also be viewed on the Internet via the m-bone, an interactive video network. During breaks in the competition, organizers fielded questions from several Internet viewers.

Although the winning team knew for years they wanted to compete, they weren't so sure about how they would do. "We didn't think we were going to win a week ago,"Schmidt-Lange said.

The team's robot did not perform to expectations during the qualifying round on Tuesday. "We qualified by blind luck. Enough things went wrong that we scored," Schmidt-Lange said.