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Burger-Shaped Robot Tops Field in Maslab Contest

By Mei-Hsin Cheng

The final contest for the Maslab robotics competition, which took place Friday, featured robots constructed with materials as strange as paintbrushes and mouse pads.

In front of an audience of 400, 55 participants forming 15 teams battled it out in the intensive Mobile Autonomous System Laboratory robotics competition, the culmination of a month of hard work.

In what the Maslab program director Finale P. Doshi G called one of their most challenging competitions to date, this year’s teams built autonomous robots designed to pick up red balls and put them in yellow tubes on an unknown playing field.

The burger-shaped “Hamburgler,” created by Doris Lin ’07, Hao Zhou ’07, and Jeffrey D. Moore ’07, emerged victorious by putting the most balls into the tubes over a five-minute period.

An engineering award was also presented to the team that took the most risks in its robot design. Members Jayant S. Krishnamurthy ’08, Jonathan M. Grimm ’07, and Sean M. Torrez ’07 won with their tri-wheel robot, “Uncertain Orientation.” While most robots had only two wheels, “Uncertain Orientation”’s third wheel allowed it to slide in all directions. The added maneuverability kept the robot from getting stuck on the playing field, Grimm said.

The task was especially difficult this year, Grimm said, because teams could score extra by putting a special green ball into a power goal.

Each robot was equipped with a web camera for recognizing the field, but some had special features such as the ability to map out the playing field and to determine the shortest path between two points, according to the Maslab Web site at http://maslab.csail.mit.edu/2006/. Others were equipped with mouse pads and paintbrushes that helped pick up the balls, Doshi said.

In Maslab, teams of three or four students spend the month-long Independent Activities Period programming robots that must perform a series of tasks and explore an unknown playing field.

Unlike its better-known robotics competition counterpart, 6.270, Maslab is far more difficult because contestants do not know the exact layout of the contest field. While 6.270 has been running since 1987, Maslab was created only six years ago.

Because of the difficulty of the tasks, Doshi said that teams were encouraged to work together and to record their progress online. Team journals can be found at http://scripts.mit.edu/~andersk/maslab/2006/wiki/Main_Page.

Doshi said this year’s contest ran the more smoothly than in previous years, as no robots broke down, and all of the participants were very enthusiastic; some even built a mock field for their robot to practice on.

Participants averaged eight hours a day of robot work, though some teams spent over 900 hours, Doshi said. Although many of the participants were Course 6 majors, other majors included 2, 8, 9, 16, 18, 21M, and 22.

Maslab, also known as 6.186, is open to all MIT undergraduate and graduate students. Participants can earn six units of pass/fail credit and six Engineering Design Points, which are required for Course 6 students. ITA Software was the primary sponsor of the competition.