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'dog' Ruffs Up the Opposition in 6.270 RoboGolfer Tourney

Wan Yusof Wan Morshidi--The Tech
Leila M. Hasan and Holly G. Gates '98 bask in the glow of victory after winning this year's 6.270 competition held last Wednesday in 26-100. See photo essay page 17.

By Douglas E. Heimburger
News Editor

A simple design turned out to be the key for Holly G. Gates '98 and Leila M. Hasan '98, who beat out 49 other teams to win last Wednesday's 6.270 Autonomous Robot DesignContest.

This year's contest, entitled "RoboGolf," challenged competitors to build robots that would collect foam balls from the playing field and drop balls that were initially in the robot onto the table.

Gates' and Hasan's creation, entitled "dog" and appropriately numbered as team one, drove across one side of the board, collected six neutral balls, worth two points each, and dropped several balls into holes on the board to score additional points.

Unlike many teams, which used a variety of optical, infrared, and mechanical sensors, "dog" used a set of mechanical flaps to steer around corners without the need for complex programming, Hasan said. "We're one of the few robots not to use feedback" in the design.

The second place robot, "General Gau," built by John S. Reese '98 and Jesse N. Pavel '00, also used a simple strategy. "We intended to do just one thing - go down [the ramp] and drop six balls in the holes," Reese said. Originally, the team was going to drop and pick up balls, "but we realized that picking up would be too hard."

Placing third was "Tigger," designed by William C. Chen '00, Jack V. Chung '00, and Bruce C. Po '99. The team aimed to collect the same six neutral balls as "dog," while it did not attempt to drop balls at the same time. "It grabs the balls and hangs on to them," Po said.

Intermediate qualifier added

An increase in the number of participating teams from 40 to 50 this year necessitated a second, intermediate round of competition. The round was held on Wednesday morning following initial cuts. 34 teams entered the final rounds of competition, said Michael S. Allen G, an organizer of the contest.

Even the three finalists faced stiff competition in the double-elimination preliminary rounds. "There were several teams that could have beaten us," Hasan said.

There was still room for creative entries in the contest, however. Among the more humorous entries was "Millennium Falcon," designed by Angel X. Chang '99, Mukul Kundu '99, and Amy W. Ng '99. The team's entry, which nearly reached the finals, was designed in about three hours when the team realized that its original code would not work, Kundu said.

"We decided to make it entertaining," she said. The robot was designed to "jump off the cliff, do a 360 [turn] and bound around the walls." Several times the robot almost attempted to jump off the table. Nevertheless, it succeeded in gathering points on almost all rounds.

First final rounds ends in tie

Once the three teams reached the final rounds they were paired off against each other in a round-robin competition. Each team won one of its two matches, resulting in an unprecedented tie. Misfortune struck "dog" when a switch telling the robot its position was set in the wrong position, causing the robot to go the wrong way when the round started against "General Gau." "We were so excited that we forgot to set the switch," Gates said.

During both final rounds strategies clashed. "Tigger" and "dog" met head to head in both matchups. However, "dog" emerged as the victor due to its faster speed; it managed to overpower "Tigger" and keep it from scoring more than 5 points while itself scoring between 15 and 20 points.

When the correctly-set "dog" competed against "General Gau," both robots performed to expectation. Yet "dog" beat out "General Gau" to win the competition by a score of 22-14.

The level of competition in the final rounds "is unprecedented for 6.270," Allen said. Had the robots again tied in the second round-robin contest, the robot with the highest total score would have been declared the winner.

Contest remains well attended

The contest, funded in part by the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Motorola, Microsoft, and Lego, among others, remains one of the Institute's best-attended events. Room 26-100 was filled to capacity throughout the competition, with late comers directed to Room 34-101, where live video feeds were broadcast. The contest was also televised live on MIT Cable and on the Internet.

Each year's contest is run by a team of organizers and teaching assistants, who had, for the most part, previously competed in 6.270.

Participants can earn six units of credit for the competition by completing a journal during the design phases, said Edwin Foo '98, another of the organizers.

Teams pay a $150 fee to enter the competition, but receive components worth about $750 to keep provided that they qualify for the contest.

Next year, the contest will feature vastly upgraded on-board computers. The new controller boards will have 32-bit processors with 4 megabytes of RAM and the potential for additional sensing equipment, possibly including imaging, Foo said. Still, one of the key goals of the contest is teaching students the value of simplicity in designs.

For the winning team, simplicity was incorporated into all aspects of the design. "It was so simple there wasn't much room for failure," Hasan said. The robot almost failed to qualify before the competition, as its flaps malfunctioned. Nonetheless, the robot managed to get some of the balls wedged under its structure and it remained undefeated until the final round.