Quickly Constructed Robots Vie For Title; Design, Dress Award

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Melodie M. Kao ’10 checks over her robot’s code on the day of the competition.
Jenny Liu—The Tech
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Eletha J. Flores ‘10 and Ayman S. Abu Shirbi ’09 calibrate their robot.
Jenny Liu—The Tech
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Alex St. Claire ‘08, Matt Robertson ‘08, and Yaim Cooper ‘07 showcase their robots to spectators.
Jenny Liu—The Tech
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A team’s robot attempts to avoid obstructions in the playing field.
Jenny Liu—The Tech

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: The Tuesday, Feb. 6 article “Quickly Constructed Robots Vie For Title; Design, Dress Award” misstated the number of teams and participants in the Mobile Autonomous System Laboratory competition. There were 16 teams and 55 participants, not 17 teams and 57 participants. Also, all of the robots used cameras, although the sentence "One of robots, Team Thirteen's 'Mr. Whiskers', was instead programmed to get a sense for and give a visual representation of the playing field using its camera and other equipment, including a gyroscope, and other optical encoders." may have given the impression that only one robot used a camera.

Robot enthusiasts packed into 26-100 on Friday, Feb. 2 to watch the Mobile Autonomous System Laboratory competition, the face-off between robots that had made it to the final stage of this year’s contest. 

“One of our ideas was for [the robot] to set itself on fire at the end …” said Karen L. Chu ’08, whose robot, Sharara, means spark in Hindi. Sharara was one of the 17 robots that competed in the final contest for the Maslab robotics competition last Friday. This year, 17 teams and 57 participants showed off their robotic designs to the eager audience.

Each Maslab team was given a kit that included the vital components for robot construction, such as an 800 MHz VIA Mach computer, a USB wireless device, and drive motors.

The object of this year’s contest was for the robots to find and pick up as many red balls as possible and deposit them into goals marked with yellow tape. Infrared reflective sensors and and ultrasound helped the robots accomplish these goals.

The winners of the final contest this year were Team 1, with their robot “12AW12,” and Team 14 with their robot “Yellow Hat.” The Design Award and Best Dressed both went to Team 12 with their robot “The Washingtons.”

With less than a month during Independent Activities Period to construct their robots, teams are pressed for time. Many teams focused on getting their robots to move in the right direction, sense and avoid the walls of the playing field, and pick up the red balls. One of the robots, Team Thirteen’s “Mr. Whiskers,” was instead programmed to get a sense for and give a visual representation of the playing field using its camera and other equipment, including a gyroscope, and optical encoders.

“Our robot’s got a sweet chrome finish over a truck-like body,” said Eletha J. Flores ’10 of her robot, Fubar.

“My favorite ‘bot was Team 8’s Jolly Roger. Some amazing engineering went into that robot, including homemade omniwheels — now that’s hardcore! Watching that thing move was just plain awesome — it was like a UFO,” said Maslab participant Aaron E. Ramirez ’10.

The robots each had five minutes to put as many red balls into the goals as possible. Picking up a red ball was worth one point, putting the ball within 12 inches of the goal was worth two points, and scoring a goal was worth four points. The layout of the Maslab competition field was unknown to participants until the day of the competition, increasing the difficulty level of the project.

This year, Maslab was sponsored by ITA software as well as Google and Sun Microsystems. MIT alumnus David P. Ziegler ’04 described Maslab as “a particularly cool competition because it’s such a large engineering space.”