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6.270 Raiders Will Square Off Tonight

Aaron Isaksen -- The Tech
Mark Pipes '01 shows parents Cynthia and Steven the robot his group created during Independent Activites Period for the 6.270 competition. The competition will be held tonight in Room 26-100.
By Jane Yoo

Signaling the end of the Independent Activities Period, Lego robots no bigger than a one foot cube will, for the 13th consecutive year, grace the contest tables in Room 26-100.

This year, the robots battle a la Indiana Jones in a competition entitled "Raiders of the Lost Parts."

Tonight's compeition at 6 p.m. marks the end of participants' three and a half week struggle to construct their robots.

Because the event is so popular, course organizers recommend that spectators arrive early to get a seat. Latecomers will be directed to the overflow room, 34-101. The competition will also be broadcast live on MIT cable channel 35.

"Raiders of the Lost Parts," is slightly different than previous competitions. In addition to allowing students to use more Legos, one of the most important changes includes a new controller board donated by Compaq. According to course organizer Adrian Danieli, these boards are "much more powerful than robot controller boards used in previous contests."

Robots are diverse this year

This year's competition includes an eclectic mix of robots. The table contains balls designated as "positive" and "negative." Each robot also has a scoring bin at one end of the table. Robots score points by collecting positive balls, depositing positive balls in their bin, or depositing negative balls in their opponent's bin.

The robot strategies this year include "bulldozers" which aggressively push negative balls into their opponent's bins, and robots that try to collect as many positive balls and place them in their own bin. Most robots, however, represent a hybrid.

Following weeks of building and testing, teams will finally experience the satisfaction of seeing their works-in-progress transformed into a fully functional robot. While some students are intent on winning the competition, others are more relaxed and just want to see their hard work pay off. To many participants, the highlight of the competition is merely seeing if the robot works at all.

Last year's competition, "Robogolf," attracted over 500 students and faculty. This year, with the varying robot strategies and the possibility of controller board failure, "Raiders of the Lost Parts" should attract just as many, if not more.

Course relies on many disciplines

Experience in robotics is helpful, but certainly not necessary. To give students some guidance towards robot design and construction, three lectures and six recitations are offered during the course. However, students are forced to integrate a variety of disciplines and draw upon knowledge in mechanical and electrical engineering as well as programming.

The class is a "practical approach to solving a real-world problem,"said participant Morris Tao '00.

While the majority of participants involved in the competition are Electrical Engineering and Computer Science majors, there are generally participants in the competition who major in other areas, such as mechanical and chemical engineering.

Kuo-Chiang Lian '00, a chemistry major, said that he has been "turned on to course 6" after having been involved in the competition.

Teams hampered by problems

Nevertheless, as teams designed and constructed their robots, many encountered problems. One major difficulty in this year's competition included the late arrival of some parts.

"Students were prohibited from testing their designs at an early stage," said course organizer Steve S. Paik G. For instance, the controller board did not come in until Friday of the first week.

There were other problems with the controller boards as well, although those were somewhat balanced by the comparative computing power of the new boards. Because the controller boards were new, course organizers ended up "debugging them on the fly,"said Rob Blau G, one of the course organizers.

Additionally, "the software was more difficult to use, but students were getting much more power,"Blau said. The old boards ran at a speed of 2MHz with 32k memory; the new boards run at 200MHz with 32 MB of memory.

"And they're really fun when they explode," Blau added.

In addition to the software and hardware problems, contestants faced such obstacles as learning how to make structurally sound robots to withstand impact, constructing sensors, and building wire-up motors. According to Stallion Yang '99, "Knowing what you want to do is easy the implementation process takes quite a while."

In the last week of competition, many teams have taken advantage of the 24-hour 6.270 lab, which had previously been open for only 14 hours.

Monday night, fifty-five teams appeared to qualify for the competition by demonstrating functionality of their robots. Only 26 out of 55 teams passed the initial qualification process; however, before last night's impoundment, a total of fifty teams qualified for the competition.

Nevertheless, losses from the qualifying round will be carried to the actual competition. Teams that incur losses from this morning's preliminary competition will also count negatively toward tonight's final competition.

Karen E.Robinson contributed to the reporting of this story