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6.270 Teams Delayed by Fried Controller Boards

By Sanjay Basu

MIT’s famed autonomous robotics competition, 6.270, has been faced with a series of delays just days before the final competition.

Students in the course, who design and build robots to compete in the popular Independent Activities Period contest, are expected to finish their projects by January 25. But delays in acquiring controller boards for the robots have prevented some students in the contest from completing their projects.

“The contestants could really work around it,” said Anthony Hui ’00, one of the contest’s organizers. “A big part of the contest is the mechanical part of the contest and the software API has been out, so they can write the code. They just can’t put it all together yet.”

Some of the students, however, have found the delay to be debilitating.

“When you build your first chassis, you want to see how it works - how fast it goes. But you can’t do that without a circuit board,” said GÁbor CsÁnyi G, a student competing in 6.270. “First they said that the boards are going to be late, and were coming last week. Then they told us it would come Wednesday and then Friday. Then they just stopped giving us dates altogether.”

Boards arrive with faulty circuits

The boards finally arrived yesterday, but students in the course promptly received an e-mail telling them not to turn the boards on.

The e-mail reported, “We are having problems with the boards. DO NOT TURN IT ON. It may burn up.”

When switched on, the boards reportedly sparked and produced smoke. “It appeared that there was a fabrication problem,” said Hui. “As of now, we’re currently working on an alternative board.”

Organizers did not set a new date for the boards’ arrival. The delay has not, however, disabled all of the students in the competition.

“The delay is annoying but our team seems to be on track,” said Naveen Goela ’03. “I think we will have enough time to finish our robot.”

“As for the delay, I can’t blame the coordinators. They are right now in the lab working hard to get the controller board into our hands as soon as possible,” Goela said.

New boards bring new problems

While course organizers for 6.270 had used the same boards for several years, they decided to begin designing new boards last year. Last year’s boards were also distributed late, although they did not take as long to reach participants as this year’s boards have.

“The new boards were made to repair old bugs and improve functionality,” Hui said. Hui and other organizers were working on alternative boards overnight, but none of the organizers provided an estimated date for delivery of the new units.