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Prelims Set Stage for 6.270 Thursday

By Amerson Lin

The 2002 Autonomous Robot Design Competition (6.270) got off to a roaring start as 60 teams clashed during Monday’s preliminary round.

In the preliminary round, teams competed against another on a playing field, and each team had to attain at least one point to qualify for the next round of competition. Since the entire competition is based on double elimination, the results of these preliminaries will matter a great deal for the coming rounds.

The final round of the 6.270 competition will be this Thursday, Jan. 31, in 26-100 at 6 p.m. All robots will be impounded on Jan. 30.

This year’s task is to gain points by dropping colored balls into one of two holes on the playing field. The balls stack up in a tube underneath the hole, and the position of each ball in the tube from the bottom determines its point worth. For example, the fourth ball from the bottom would be worth four points.

Preliminaries test strategies

The teams in the competition chose varied strategies to use in the algorithms for their robots. Aaron M. Sokoloski ’05 chose to go for a total offensive as his team’s robot was exceptionally powerful. After getting the easy balls in, the robot would head straight for the opponent’s side to act as an interactive obstacle.

Cyndi V. Vongvanith ’03, Jennifer C. Lee ’03 and Jaya Cromwell ’03 decided to go with a small and fast vehicle that would grab the two closest balls, put them into the holes and then head off to the back to plow the back row.

Rikky Muller ’03, owner of “Lego My Eggo,” said that her team decided to go for all their possible balls and totally ignore their opponent. Their robot sacrificed speed for control and accuracy, which proved to be a prudent trade-off as their robot emerged as one of the better robots, almost scoring a total of six balls.

On the other hand, many teams also chose the strategy of getting a few balls in quickly and then either blocking the holes or hinder their opponent’s movement. Members from team 29 said that their strategy was to get the two closest balls into the holes as quickly as possible and then block the two holes using two rollers that would be propelled from the main body of the robot once the vehicle was properly positioned.

Robots need tweaking for finals

Each team has put in many hours of hard work into building their robots, with most teams working more than eight hours each day. Some of the teams had to make radical changes to their robots only hours before the preliminaries to ensure that they would work properly.

A member of team 35 said that they had to build their robot from scratch on Sunday as they decided to change the design.

In the preliminary round, many robots had problems with the starting lights that are designed to help the robot register its starting position. While other robots’ sensors strangely refused to function.

Eric Fuller ’03, Dewey R. Richmond ’03 and Josue Mateo ’03 were immensely displeased when their robot managed to get 3 balls down the ramp towards the hole but because of, in their opinion, an imperfection of the board, none of the 3 balls managed to enter the hole. The balls were practically stuck on top of the hole. They lost but still managed to qualify for the subsequent rounds.

Robots reflect individuality

This year’s robots displayed a wide range of designs. Billy F. Waldman ’05 and Andrew T. Marsh ’02, named their three-legged vehicle “Tricyclotops” and said that it had acrobatic ability and could do flips on the playing field.

Jennifer Huang ’02, Jiafu Cen ’03 and Steven Huang ’03 affectionately named their robot “Pinchy,” and as the name suggests, it has pinchers that would primarily be used to grab their balls and could also later be used to hinder their opponent’s movement.

Team 4, consisting of Milan Mandic ’03, Ian Garcia ’03 and Raul J. Coral ’03, all of whom are Course XVI (Aeronautics and Astronautics) majors, named their robot “Chubeto.” Its special feature was a cage-like structure that could be used to entrap opponent’s balls and prevent the other robot from scoring.

6.270 lives up to its reputation

6.270 is a hands-on, interactive class that is held annually during IAP. The main goal of the class is to design a machine that will able to navigate its way around a fixed playing field, recognize its opponents, and manipulate game objects such as balls. The specific set-up of the playing field and method of scoring points changes from year to year.

This IAP’s class did not fail to live up to the reputation that 6.270 has established in recent years. Allen Rabinovich ’04, who is currently taking the class, said that it is “more organized than some of the other classes here at MIT.” He also feels that this year’s competition is more challenging than in previous years.

The students work in teams of two or three, and each team is given the same kit which contains sensors, electronic components, batteries, motors and LEGO blocks. On top of this, teams must program an algorithm for their robots that will autonomously guide it on the playing field. The teams receive their kits at the beginning of IAP and have three weeks to complete their robots.