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“This is Mike Lin” Victorious In 6.270

By Kelley Rivoire

NEWS EDITOR

Around 500 members of the MIT community braved a snowstorm that had caused a campus closure to watch the finals of 6.270, the Autonomous Robot Design Competition, on Wednesday night.

Team “This is Mike Lin,” composed of David M. Carpenter ’05, Ron Ron Cheng ’07, and Michael J. Gebauer ’06 were victorious over almost sixty other teams in this year’s Star Wars themed competition, entitled “Attack of the Drones: May the Torque be with You.”

Competition more complex

This year’s competition featured more difficult scoring rules than last year’s, said 6.270 Organizer David C. Wang ’05.

The game featured a board with three scoring areas for each team and red and green balls which the robots would maneuver. Robots could “vote” by depositing balls of either color into either the red or green bins located on the two sides of the table. The vote count was determined by number of balls in each color bin, regardless of their color. The winning bin was the one that had more votes, or, if neither team voted, was predetermined. Balls of the same color as the“winning” bin were worth 2 points, while balls of the “losing vote” were worth -1. Teams could score for themselves or give other teams negative points by putting balls of the losing color into the opponent’s scoring areas.

Winners use simple strategy

The winning team employed a relatively simple, “non-intelligent” strategy, aiming to produce a reliable robot rather than risk complications, said Cheng. Their robot would first determine its orientation, then straighten out and knock four balls into the scoring zone, guaranteeing at least two points. In their strategy, the robot would then commit the side of the table opposite the other team’s robot, and collect all the balls on that side. The robot would then check the vote and guess, according to where it was located on the board, what color balls it had. If the robot determined that the balls were the same color as the vote, it would move into its scoring area; if the vote was opposite, the robot would deposit the balls in their opponent’s scoring area, he said.

They made the robot have “as few moving parts as possible” so that “not much could go wrong,” Cheng said. The robot “did what it was told to do very well.”

Cheng said the team was “very surprised to see our robot do very well.” He said that the team decided to enter the contest because Gebauer had recently switched to Course 6 and needed the credits.

Features added to competition

This year’s competition included many “new technological advances,” said Wang. In previous years, robots had a “very hard time navigating around the playing field.” This year, the contest organizers implemented an interactive system in which robots received real-time information about the positions of the two robots and the status of the vote from radio frequency sensors, said 6.270 Organizer David P. Ziegler G.

The goal of the changes was to “make it so that teams can have more flexibility in what kinds of designs are good and worthwhile,” he said.

The more complicated scoring mechanism was a trade-off, Ziegler said. It allowed teams to “be more inventive and creative,” but was also “a little more difficult for audience members to understand,” he said.

The scoring rules also encouraged a wider range of strategies than in previous years, leading to a greater dependence on good coding, said Wang.

Teams were also allowed free reign in modifying their electronics, Ziegler said. One team chose to replace both their motors and batteries, he said.

Ziegler said that, as in other years, the key to success in this year’s competition was having a reliable robot. “If you want to be one of the top five teams, you have to be reliable,” he said, though he added that winning the competition also involved a certain amount of luck.

Contestants had mixed emotions

Participants in the 6.270 contest praised the accomplishment they felt when their robots functioned correctly, while lamenting their lack of sleep.

The robot created by the team including Omar S. Bashir ’05 was seeded in the top five, but ran into difficulties after some last-minute changes, Bashir said. He said the team had a “really risky strategy” in which his team’s robot immediately moved to the other team’s side of the table. They were “sure it would have paid off,” but because of an error in programming, the robot ended up “crashing and burning pretty early,” he said.

David E. Tobias ’06 said his team constructed a robot in which two smaller components would separate, with one component going to their scoring area to score positive points and one component going to their opponent’s area to score negative points for the other team. However, their sensors began to malfunction on the day of the impounding, and the team had to pull out of the competition. Tobias also said that because of all time spent in lab, it was easy to become friends with members of other teams.