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IAP Robotics Contest New to Course II

By Jing-Helen Tang

Freshmen who don’t want to play with Legos in MIT’s Autonomous Robot Design Competition (6.270) and who would be overwhelmed by the Mobile Autonomous Systems Laboratory (6.186) have a new way to play with robots this Independent Activities Period.

The Discover Mechanical Engineering (DME) program is holding a “SoccerBots” competition, where students will design and build remote-controlled, soccer-playing machines for an IAP contest. The program focuses not on advanced mechanical engineering skills, but rather on providing students with a good understanding of the engineering process.

The contest is intended to be “somewhat simple but at the same time demonstrate basic manufacturing processes,” said Raymond L. Speth ’03, a member of the development team for DME.

Much like Mechanical Engineering Tools (2.670), where students build a model Stirling engine to learn machine tools, “students will be given full kit of tools and step by step instructions” at the start of the program, said Mary K. Thompson ’02, the creator and director of DME.

At the end of the program, students get to try out their robots in a remote-controlled soccer tournament.

The contest is similar to 2.007, where Course II students design and build remote controlled machines for a much more challenging contest. Students who enjoy DME would most likely thrive in the highly-competitive 2.007.

DME more than a contest

Compared to other IAP robotics contests such as 6.270 and 6.186, DME has “less room for creative design because the project is so short,” Speth said. However, in addition to building soccer-playing robots, participants will have the chance to get to learn more about mechanical engineering from an insider perspective.

Through informal breakfasts and luncheons, freshmen can interact in a “relaxed but directed atmosphere with upperclassmen, alumni and faculty,” said Professor of Mechanical Engineering John G. Brisson II, the program’s faculty advisor and sponsor.

Other aspects of the program include tours of mechanical engineering labs and off-campus tours of engineering and manufacturing facilities.

Even though part of the program’s goal is to attract students to mechanical engineering, Thompson said that the greater goal is to help freshmen discover their real interest and to “improve the quality of the freshmen experience.”

“We would rather have 30 happy freshmen in Course VI than 30 unhappy ones in Course II,” Thompson said.

DME to become pre-orientation

The organizers intend IAP version of DME to be a transition to a full pre-orientation program for Course II. “Pre-orientation is going to be a lot different,” Thompson said. “There will be more space available ... We will be able to fit everyone in the Pappalardo Lab.” The program will also run four days instead of five.

Thompson originally envisioned a counterpart to Ocean Engineering’s Discover Ocean Engineering pre-orientation program (DOE).

As a participant in the freshman pre-orientation Discover Ocean Engineering program, Thompson found the experience “amazing and wonderful” and wanted to start a similar program in her major.