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Few Robots Qualify For Finals in 6.270

By Lakshmi Nambiar

STAFF REPORTER

The MIT Autonomous Robot Design Competition (6.270) kicked off the end of IAP 2003 with a bang as 57 teams competed in the preliminary rounds of 6.270 on Monday.

After the preliminary round, only 12 teams qualified to move on to the final round this Thursday in 26-100 at 6 pm. Work on the successful robots must stop on Wednesday, and the robots will be impounded until the competition.

“The task of the robots was to bring colored balls to the middle plateau of the playing field to receive one point, and robots that were able to put a single ball in the cup on the bottom plateau received four points,” said T. Debbie Wan ’03, one of the organizers.

Relatively few robots qualify

“Robots were disqualified if they failed to show they could score a point. We were just looking to see that the robots could be able to score a point, even if they didn’t,” said Wan.

“I was shocked at the low number of robots that made it through to the preliminary rounds. I competed last year and I felt that around 30 teams qualified last year. There was definitely a concern about that,” Wan said.

Three teams were able to achieve the feat of dropping the ball in the cup on the bottom plateau.

Sensors cited as key weaknesses

The main problems most of the robots faced were difficulties with sensors and the inability to properly initiate the start sequence.

“The lighting in 26-100, where the competition was held, is a lot different from the lighting in the lab,” Wan said. “These robots are light-sensitive and thus were acting kind of wacky. The phototransistors weren’t well shielded.”

“A lot of people were prepared for the difficult tasks like navigating the balls, but they hadn’t practiced well for the start sequence,” said Erica H. Peterson ’02, another organizer.

“Make sure you test your start code before you come up here,” organizer David P. Ziegler ’04 repeatedly reminded participants on Monday.

“The start sequence consisted of a 60 second period to calibrate the robot in order to allow it to detect colors, followed by the arming period to allow the robot to wait for the start light [signaling the beginning of the game] to begin,” Wan said. “People messed up this start sequence.”

Robots product of hard work

Organizers noted that the robots that were most likely to qualify were constructed by students that had spent the most time testing them.

“Spending more time in lab definitely helped participants,” Peterson said. “A lot of people were working at home and they didn’t have the same access to resources as they would have had in lab. In lab, students were able to test their robots on the tables and consult TA’s.”

“The people that did the best were the ones that were constantly practicing in lab. In terms of structural elements, I really couldn’t say which methods worked best because a variety of structures worked in their own way,” Wan said.

Many prototypes implemented

Tim I. Abrahamsen ’06, Ross N. Glashan ’06, and James J. Wnorowski ’06, members of Team 23, had to test several ideas before they could get their robot to work.

“We scrapped about 4 or 5 ideas. We had a forklift first and then we had a claw,” said Abrahamsen.

“Now the robot is a combination of a forklift and a claw,” said Glashan.

Keith V. Battocchi G, Andrew G. Gregg ’04, and Taku Iida ’04 went through an arduous process to create their robot, “Super Duplo.”

“First, we brainstormed several ideas and then we started playing around with different prototypes. We finally got one that we were satisfied with,” said Gregg.

John A. Aquandro ’05, Akash P. Kansagra ’05, and Elvio A. Sadun ’05, members of Team 16, spent a lot of time working on their robot, which presently remains nameless.

“We’ve spent far too many all-nighters. We’ve spent the past 16 hours in lab and I know some people have spent days on end in lab working on their robots,” said Sadun.

Long tradition of 6.270 competition

6.270 is a hands-on IAP class in which participants design and build a robot that will participate in a competition at the end of January. The goal for the students is to design a machine that will be able to navigate its way around the playing surface, recognize other opponents, and manipulate game objects. Robots are totally autonomous, so once a round begins, there is no human intervention.

The goal of 6.270 is to teach students about robotic design by giving them the hardware, software, and information they need to design, build, and debug their own robot. The students work in teams of two or three. Each team is given the same kit containing various sensors, electronic components, batteries, motors, and LEGOs, worth approximately $1,500. The kits are handed out at the beginning of January and students have three weeks in which to transform the parts into a working robot for the competition at the end of the month.