Team 9 wins annual Maslab competition

Last Friday, robot enthusiasts flocked to 26-100 to watch Maslab, one of MIT’s most popular IAP student competitions. This year, ten teams took to the playing field, building and programming robots to autonomously identify red and yellow balls and scoring them into their respective goals. The champion this year was Team 9, made up of Geza Kovacs ‘12, Daniel J. Stallworth ‘11, Raqeebul I. Ketan ‘11, Jeremy M. Martin ‘10, and Chukwuka C. Mbagwu ‘11.

At the beginning of the month, teams were given a basic kit consisting of an EeePC, uORC board, camera, gyroscope, and other materials necessary to build a mobile robot. The Maslab staff hosted mock competitions and labs, but otherwise teams independently design and built their own robots.

“I didn’t really know who I expected to win,” said Eric M. Timmons ‘10, Maslab Program Director and previous participant. Compared to past years’ robots, “the robots [this year] in general, improved,” he said.

Even though Team 9 was outperformed by Team 10 in the mock competitions, Team 9 improved its motor design a couple of days before the competition by eschewing gears or chains for a direct drive mechanism to turn its wheels. The team also mounted a camera at the head of the robot, four short range infrared sensors on the sides, and a gyroscope within the robot itself. The gyroscope not only helped the robot drive straight, but also let it detect whether it was stuck.

“This last week [Team 9] was really persistent. They just kept working and working and working,” said Timmons.

Some teams went beyond and ordered components that were not provided by the staff: higher-voltage batteries, high-torque stepper motors, even a car vacuum. The Maslab staff gave the “Best Design” award to Team 1, a.k.a. “Team Mess.”

Team 1’s robot, named “Biscotti Reflections,” was completely laser-cut out of acrylic and featured a omni-wheel drive system, allowing it to translate in an direction. The staff also acknowledged its software design and state machine implementation as beautifully done.

At the final competition, however, “Biscotti Reflections” experienced a USB-hub failure on its EeePC, crippling its optical mouse and visual sensory systems. “Things happen that you really can’t plan for­­­­ —— you can’t expect,” said Timmons.

The award for “Best Dressed,” which was decided by popular vote among those who attended the pre-final open house, was given to Team 2. The winning team’s robot exhibited a vacuum feed system to pick up balls as well as a telescoping camera platform, which was used to map the entire playing field at the beginning of its run.