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‘King Louie’ Claims Yearly 6.270 Crown

Robot Is Almost Perfect in Run to Victory

By Kevin R. Lang

After making quick work of “Quik Chow,” charging past “El Matador,” and fixing “Handy Job,” “King Louie” flopped to victory in “Bots in Blue,” this year’s 6.270 Autonomous Robot Design Competition.

Just before the final round, “King Louie” teammates Ian M. Finn ’01, Liyan Guo ’03, and Stanley Hu ’00 used a parody of the Marine Corps “prayer” from Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket as a battle cry. “This is our robot. There are many like it, but this one is ours. Our robot is our best friend. It is our life. We must master it as we must master our lives.”

“We thought it would be entertaining,” Hu said, although he doubted if many people knew the reference.

“King Louie” almost perfect

In this year’s competition, “hacker,” “student,” and “professor” blocks were placed on a board that was divided into two sections corresponding to East and West Campus. Robots attempted to place hackers in jail and keep professors and students on their side of campus.

“King Louie’s” strategy was to simply move forward, extend its arms, and pull back four professor blocks onto its side of campus. “King Louie” scored 12 points in every match throughout 6.270, until the final round. On the first match of the best-of-three final against Team 47, “Perrin,” “King Louie’s” arms deployed early, causing it to miss two of the professor blocks; “Perrin” easily won the match 8-4.

“In practice we know that we weren’t 100 percent consistent,” Hu said. “We certainly didn’t expect that to happen.”

For the final two matches, though, “King Louie” scored its usual 12 points to win 6.270.

“King Louie” was named for the ape king from the Disney movie The Jungle Book, and “Perrin” was named for MIT alumnus Dr. Robert P. Perrin ’60, a math and physics teacher that all three teammates had in high school.

Flopping arms tested in lab

With the significant delays in receiving controller boards, teams had more than enough time to consider different approaches to jailing hackers.

“We went through a lot of strategies,” Hu said. After considering a sorting strategy like many other teams, the team decided to go for the professor blocks, but could only capture two originally.

“The simple solution was that our arms weren’t long enough,” Hu said. “When the arms were held at a certain angle ... the arms would naturally fall down and be put in perfect position.”

Hu attributed much of the team’s success to luck, both with the RoboSkiff Controller boards and the unfolding arms. The team had a contingency plan if the RoboSkiff board proved problematic, as it had been for many teams. “King Louie” had a C-based board waiting if necessary.

“We weren’t going to lose because we chose the wrong board,” Hu said.

However, other students were eager to express their dissatisfaction with the RoboSkiff controller boards, which often malfunctioned, short-circuited, and even sparked and smoked. When course organizers announced sponsors for the contest, contestants booed and hissed the controller board sponsors, some of whom were actually in attendance.

Team 47 member Mark F. Tompkins ’02 said that the team burned out three RoboSkiff boards -- one “actually smoked,” Tompkins said -- before finding a functional board. All three members of Team 47 are majoring in computer science.

“I actually don’t think the robots were quite as complex as previous years,” said Tompkins. “I think our team ... could have made much cooler robots.”

Guo and Hu are majoring in Course VI, while Finn is majoring in Biology.

Last year’s contest more exciting

Thirty-one teams competed in the final round of this year’s 6.270 contest. As usual, eager fans quickly filled all of the seats in 26-100 and the crowd poured into the aisles. The crowding was so severe that Campus Police officers forced all aisle-bound spectators to leave the hall because of fire regulations. Those not lucky enough to find an open seat were relegated to MIT Student Cable coverage.

However, early in Round I, many of the sponsors in attendance began leaving. Because teams had so little time to test and debug their robots, they were limited to very simple strategies, and this year’s contest lacked much of the excitement of last year’s contest.

Whereas outright combat and battling robots were common last year in “Raiders of the Lost Parts,” students this year cheered even the slightest contact for lack of anything more dramatic.

By 7:15, much of the standing crowd in the back of 26-100 had cleared out, and empty seats were readily available.

Only one vehicle this year used detachable, secondary vehicles, but it could not score any points. Last year, when teams had far more time to program and test, such complex robots were commonplace.

Course organizer Mouser Williams G said before the contest that there were no “real killers” in “Bots in Blue.”

“The average score [was] between four and ten points,” Williams said, although scores on the order of 30 points were not implausible.

Perhaps the most amusing aspect of this year’s contest was the team names. Among them were Team 4 “Nication,” Team 8 “chuck West,” Team 20 “Delusions of Adequacy,” Team 43 “Ten Minute Code,” and Team 55 “Time Bomb.”

Lauren H. Bradford ’02, a member of Team 31 “Suicidal Tendencies,” said that her team’s robot was named for its habit of jumping off the practice table.

“This code was loaded on about 20 minutes before impounding,” Bradford said. “It doesn’t score enough to win.” Nonetheless, Bradford said the competition was “a lot of fun.”