May 18, 2006
2.007: Where even your smallest part matters
Posted in: Academics & Research
Wow, most exciting/eventful two days ever. I'm very sad to say that 2.007 has come to a close. If you're saying, "2.007, huh?" click here and read about the contest description on Bryan's blog.
The four years at MIT are simulated using a table with five levels, including a Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior platform, where wooden and rubber balls represent credits required for graduation. Being a tech school, the balls representing the engineering classes are three times more valuable than the ones for humanities, and only one graduate ball represents the coveted MIT diploma.
Basically, this class was one of the reasons I came to MIT. Most (maybe all) other schools do not have the time and resources to make such a class possible, especially because at MIT it is a required class for all mechanical engineers, and there are a lot of us!
Since February, about 150 mechanical engineering students have put their hearts and souls into building robots for this competition. Bryan and I had the pleasure of spending pretty much all day Friday in the lab, along with our regularly scheduled lab time (4 hours once a week) and whenever else we got the chance. The class teaches design and manufacturing, so the first month or so is dedicated to designing the robot (coming up with strategies, concepts, modules), and subsequent months are spent on engineering and building. It's an amazing opportunity to work through the entire design process and end up with a nice final product.
Alas, here is my robot:
Its name is Melotaur (both a play on words on the Minotaur, the ancient Greek half-bull half-man (meant to be intimidating...grr), and because it's a combination (sort of) of my first and last name.) Melotaur has brought me much happiness and sadness, but mostly happiness. Here's a glimpse of the roller coaster that is robotics:
February: Complete frustration because I had no idea which strategy to choose (should I go for the humanities balls? should I make use an arm? ahhh!?)
March: Slightly less frustration, but much confusion. I finally decided on a strategy and went with it!
April: Things started coming into place.
April 27 (I know because it's recorded in my journal): Seriously, it was the happiest day of the semester. My robot finally worked for the first time.
May 5-morning of May 9: Complete frustration, again, as my motors refused to work. I had to rebulid them a million times, and then finally Mark, an Undergraduate Assistant who won the competition last year, told me just to remove one of the screws that was attaching the motor to my robot and, VOILA, it worked. The motors were just over-constrained. One screw made all the difference.
Night of May 9: Seeding for the final competition. Basically, the instructors decide who plays whom in the first round of the competition by having you run your car on the table by itself and seeing how many points you can score. My car did better than it had ever done before, I was able to score 680 points (4 engineering balls and 1 graduate ball in the A bin.) It was so, so, so exciting. It also gave me a really high seed in the competition, which guaranteed that I would play someone who was unable to score in seeding.
May 16 (yesterday): Round 1
Check out Bryan and Megan ('07) getting ready to kick butt:
I was able to score 3 engineering balls in the A bin, giving me a score of 360. So, I advanced to the next day's competition, along with Bryan!
May 17 (today!): Round of 64
At this point, half of the class is eliminated from the competition. Things get more serious and the judging gets tough. In the first game of the round of 64, I knew that my opponent had a robot that could hypothetically capture all 9 engineering balls and shoot them down from the top platform. My strategy was to go directly for his humanities ball, in the meantime using my robot to block his balls from making it down the ramps. Unfortunately, a combination of a motor problem and a new driving configuration that I had not practiced caused my car to fall off of the ramp. However, the contest was re-run and in the second game I was able to score one engineering ball in the B bin. I could have scored more if some nuts on the side of my robot had not rubbed against the plastic shielding on the table, preventing it from driving straight.
I fixed the nut problem by covering the ends with a piece of tape. For the round of 32, my robot was doing splendidly, as I captured 4 engineering balls. However, the spring pin that held the coupling for the wheel shaft came loose and partially fell out, causing it to scrape against the base of the robot. My robot was immobilized on the Junior platform, as it could not turn with a jammed wheel. This was highly unfortunate and could have been avoided by making sure that all of the spring pins were strongly in place.
So I was knocked out, I ended up getting 17th overall.
But, the winning robots were just so beautiful. Like, impeccably designed and manufactured. Here are pictures from the semifinals:
And finally, the final round was between Orian Welling and Greg Schroll. They had very similar robots, in that they both used treads (like an Army tank) and a rotating mechanism to capture and release balls. It was a nailbiter since they were very evenly matched! Click here to see the video of the final round (warning, it's a VERY big file....18 MB, but it's worth it!) Greg Schroll ended up winning, congrats to him! Both robots were incredibly consistent throughout the entire contest. Everyone was very impressed.
What a RIDICULOUSLY AWESOME SCORE by Orian in a previous round:
And here is a picture of the top 4 winners! They will all be going to the International Robotics Contest in Japan this summer! You can see Professor Slocum, the main teacher of the class, picking up Greg (the winner.) This is a little tradition of the contest, along with making people do lots of push-ups throughout the competition.
Sooo, last but not least, what did I learn? First of all, I'd like to thank all of my friends who came to the competition. I could not have done it with your constant support, you all are amazing. When my robot fell off the cliff in the first round of 64, I was devestated, but my amazing friends vouched for me (as in, fought with the judges to let me try again) and comforted me. Bryan even offered for me to take apart his robot to get spare pieces and fix my own!
I also learned that design and manufacturing is completely awesome. 2.007 was the most fun class I've taken at MIT (also the most time consuming...) and I've gotten so much out of it. There's nothing quite like taking a wild idea on paper and making it a reality.
Will write more later after things sink in....