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MIT robot-building contest turns 30; students, past winners compete

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- MIT's Department of Mechanical Engineering will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the internationally known Design 2.007 Contest on Tuesday, May 9, 2000, at 6:00 pm in the Johnson Athletic Center on the MIT campus.

The Design 2.007 contest is a two-night elimination tournament in which robots designed and built during the semester by students in course 2.007, Introduction to Design and Manufacturing, try to complete certain tasks and, once they score, to block other machines from scoring points.

This year's contest is called, "Sojourner This: Y2.007K'd" also known as "MechaImpactaGeddon." Named for the little rock-collecting rover that actually went to Mars, "Sojourner This" challenges robots to complete a simulated Mars science mission that may be disrupted by the impact of a large asteroid. The contest goal is to see who can gather the most "Mars rocks" including, if possible, the asteroid.

Historically, the Design 2.007 Contest has reflected prominent issues of the day. The first contest, held in 1970, centered on a "creativity kit" from whose odd parts students taking Introduction to Design were told, "build something useful." The first named contest in the course, "A Better Mousetrap," occurred in 1972. Since then, Design 2.007 has had titles ranging from the political ("Watergater," 1974) to the pop-cultural ("The Cuckoo's Nest," 1988) to the purely whimsical ("Ballcano," 1997 and "MechEverest," 1998). The robots have had to gather such things as plastic bottles, ping-pong balls and hockey pucks, move glass marbles, and play tug of war.

"Sojourner This" will be unique in the history of 2.007: many past winners of the contest will be in attendance, and some will build machines to compete in a special "Legends of 2.007" contest on May 9th. Past winners recall vividly their experience of winning this event, and it should be quite a reunion.


At the beginning of the semester, students in 2.007: Introduction to Design (formerly known as 2.70) are given the kit of materials (the kit itself is a laundry-basket-sized green plastic tub) and asked to design a robot from them.

Students first develop a concept by application of creativity and physics. They next make computer models/foam mockups of their concepts, engineer the details, build their machines, and have them ready to "ship" in time for the final event. The students build their machines and compete as a celebration and verification of the design process.

The kits distributed in the early years included such items as computer cards, Venetian blind slats, plastic spoons, tongue depressors, rubber bands, paper clips, 5x7 note cards, a pencil, and one pound of sand and were handed to each student in a paper bag.

This year's kit contains mainly raw materials such as windshield wiper motors, gears, pneumatic pistons and lots of structural materials from which students design and fabricate complex robotic machines.

The principal corporate sponsors for Design 2.007 are Ford Motor Company; General Motors Corporation; Guidant Corporated; Parametric Technology Corporation and Solid Works Corporation. Numerous other companies provide the widely diverse materials used in the kit.


In 1990, the Design 2.007 contest went international. The winner of the contest and several other students in the course traveled to Japan that year to participate in the International Design Contest (IDC). The IDC was modelled on MIT's Design 2.007 except that there are teams of six students, each one from a different participating country. The competition now includes the USA, Japan, Germany, South Korea, Brazil, France and the United Kingdom.

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