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Grad Student Trio Bests Competition in 6.270

By Laura Nicholson
STAFF REPORTER

Amid a rain of giveaways pelted by sponsors across 26-100, MIT’s Autonomous Robot Design Competition, 6.270, concluded in front of an animated crowd last Thursday evening.

Employing an aggressive strategy intended to cripple its opponents, Team “B.A.L. — The Merciless,” composed of Bogdan I. Fedeles G, Austin J. Che G, and Lindy L. Blackburn G, recovered from a last-place finish in the seeding rounds to take first out of 48 teams.

Team “Cookie Monster,” with Derrick C. Tan ’06, Joshua T. Chang ’07, and Andrew W. Lee ’07, placed second.

This year’s contest, called “The Broom Club,” challenged teams to “clean up” the Institute by moving colored balls around the game table. The balls rested on a crest in the center of the sloped table at the beginning of play, and teams attempted to score points by pushing them into the opponent’s area.

“B.A.L. — The Merciless” employed a simple strategy: at the beginning of each match, the five-wheel-drive robot rushed across the table to pin the opposing robot in the corner, while knocking several balls into the scoring zone.

Because this starting strategy was so successful, untested code later in the program did not significantly affect the team’s final performance. “As you can tell, it’s just the beginning of the code that works,” Fedeles said.

Team members suggested this low-scoring strategy that left them in last after the seeding rounds gave them a big advantage in the finals, because everyone counted them out.

This year’s competition marked the introduction of a “perpetual prize,” an oversized aluminum LEGO block that will be inscribed with the names of each year’s winners. The LEGO was named “The Glashan Block” after organizer Ross N. Glashan ’06, who redesigned the 10-plus-year-old control boards for this year’s teams. “I kind of came here to do 6.270, so it’s kind of cool to leave something like that behind,” Glashan said.

During one of the intermissions, teams were also presented with staff awards, such as “Most Likely to Survive a Drop Test,” and “Most Likely to Catch on Fire.” Team “Oscar the Grouch” was awarded “Most Interesting Use of Baseplate” for melting the plastic LEGO baseplate and molding it into a fan to blow on the balls.

Google representative David P. Ziegler ’04, a former 6.270 organizer, awarded the team members with laptop cases. “This is exactly the kind of crazy stuff we think is awesome,” he said.

Ziegler also presented teams “Noron” and “Phat Phaffer” with lava lamps. “Noron” had programmed a neural net for their robot.

“This year [the competition] was a lot simpler than previous years, and so I think you got more wild strategies, so you got a much more exciting competition,” Glashan said.

As usual, the competition featured placebos, robots designed by 6.270 staff “to be cute, and to be the other robot when we have an odd number of teams,” said organizer Julia M. Dennet ’08. One of the placebo bots, created by David C. Wang ’06, an organizer of last year’s contest, drew a smiley face on a sheet of paper during the 60-second match.

Web sites created by the teams to document their month-long design process can be found at http://web.mit.edu/6.270/Teams/.