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2.007 robot contestants gear up for The Big Dig

MIT's Department of Mechanical Engineering will celebrate its annual competition of maximum design and engineering on May 5 and 6 at 6 p.m. in the Johnson Athletic Center. The event is free and open to the public.

Design 2.007, as the contest is known, offers an exciting two-night elimination tournament in which robots built by students in course 2.007 (Introduction to Design and Manufacturing), compete in performing preassigned tasks on a table riddled with obstacles, traps and giddy scoring opportunities.

This year's contest is "The Big Dig," in honor of the incredibly complex road, bridge and tunnel project in central Boston.

The "Big Dig" table is not for the delicate driver. Each contestant has only 30 seconds to ready her machine and 45 seconds to compete, and must face a veritable road-rage theme park including the spinning Spectacle Island Platter; rows of Pothole Pucks; tricky Mass. Pike Tollbooths; Ted Williams Tunnels; and a Zakim Bridge ramp, atop which are slots to receive the traditional 2.007 supply of hockey pucks and street hockey balls.

The 2.007 contest was first held in 1970, and 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; "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.

At the beginning of the semester, students in 2.007 are given a kit of materials and asked to design a robot to accomplish a certain task. They develop a concept, make computer models and foam mockups, engineer the details, build their machines, and have them ready to "ship" in time for the final event.

The kits distributed in the early years included such items as computer cards, Venetian blind slats, plastic spoons, tongue depressors, rubber bands, paper clips and a one-pound bag of sand. Materials provided for "Big Dig" include plywood, aluminum, steel, plastic, springs, caster wheels and wire ties.

The principal corporate sponsors for Design 2.007 are Bauer, Decco, Ford Motor Co., GE, General Motors, Guidant, Loctite, Parametric Technology and Solid Works.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 28, 2004.

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