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2.007 robot contest gets underway

MIT's Department of Mechanical Engineering will host the 31st Design 2.007 contest on Wednesday, May 9 at 7pm in the Johnson Athletics Center.

The celebrated event is an annual elimination tournament in which robots designed and built during the semester by students in 2.007 (Introduction to Design and Manufacturing) compete in 45-second rounds.

The contest gets a new name each year. This year it's called Tiltillator, thanks to the see-saw-shaped contest table.

MacVicar Fellow Alexander H. Slocum, professor of mechanical engineering, is the head instructor for Design 2.007 and the emcee for the contest.

Commenting on the radical departure from the planar table of recent years, he said, "Every year we ask the students what they think would be a great contest for next year. They told us they want more ways to score and they don't want to be so limited by the table. This data, combined with inspiration from an early 2.70 seesaw-like contest, led to the creation of Tiltillator. I wanted to add potentially zany dynamics and no table limits to give power geeks twisted strategy potential. I also must admit, as an ultra Britney Spears fan, 'Oops, I tilted again!' was a major influence."

Ahmed M. Elmouelhi, a senior in mechanical engineering and head undergraduate assistant in the course, said, "The best thing about this year's table is that it allows for a lot more direct contact between the contestants. In other words, you can expect to see a lot more machines interacting with each other. And who doesn't like action?

"This table also forces poorly engineered machines out of the contest. Only the students with solid, thought-out machines will survive until the second day," he added.

The goal for each machine is to bring its own end of the I-beam-like table closest to the floor. As each round begins, the beam is balanced. The winner of the round is the machine closest to the floor. As each machine struggles to outweigh the other, a soccer ball swings pendulum-like from a central pole, adding an ominous note.

"One of the toughest problems the students face is that they cannot reasonably predict the motion of the table," Mr. Elmouelhi said. "The pendulum suspended from the top of the table adds all sorts of messy dynamics to the beam and so students can never be sure when the table will tilt. That makes designing a machine into an absolute nightmare. But just like every year, the students are amazing us with their creativity and their solid engineering knowhow."

Another innovation for 2001 is remote control. This year, student competitors will stand at podium-like boxes several feet away from the seesaw table. Previously, drivers huddled around the contest table, obscuring the audience's view.

"The physics is more competitive; the students have a much greater chance to strut their physics and design prowess," Professor Slocum said.

Fans of 2.007 should be on the lookout for machines that "jump off the table and machines that suck onto the sides of the table. Those should be really cool," Mr. Elmouelhi said.

The principal corporate sponsors for Design 2.007 include Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp., Guidant Corp., Parametric Technology Corp. and SolidWorks Corp. Several other companies provided materials.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 2, 2001.

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