Competition concludes mechanical design class, unleashing a wide variety of spinning, pumping and striking robots.
MIT’s Johnson Athletic Center took on the aura of an old-fashioned county fair on Thursday night, complete with popcorn, balloons, jugglers, cotton candy and pitchmen wearing brightly colored jackets and bowties. But rather than ring tosses and sheep-shearing, the central event was a series of one-on-one matchups between an amazing variety of robots that students have spent the whole semester designing, building and testing.
This was the culmination of MIT’s renowned course in mechanical engineering, “Design and Manufacturing 1,” better known by its course number, 2.007. As always, a series of tasks set by the designers of this year’s competition triggered a wild proliferation of imaginative designs and strategies. But in the end, relatively simple, stable and repeatable approaches won the competition.
“You don’t always know what the best approach is going to be,” says Daniel Frey, associate professor of mechanical engineering and engineering systems and the lead instructor of the class. And this year, a variety of tasks for the robots to choose from, on a playing field modeled after a county fair, added to the variety of approaches.
Even seemingly simple challenges can lead to inventive solutions: For example, a “strength tester” — the carnival game where striking a lever with a mallet sends a projectile upward to strike a bell — was approached quite differently by different students. Some struck the lever with an actual hammer or mallet mounted on a hinge, while some ignored the lever and built miniature elevators to gently lift the projectile up to the bell; others built spring-loaded spatula-like devices to flip the projectile up.
Besides the strength test, other challenges teams could choose for their robots included the mechanical removal of tickets from a roll — which turned out to be surprisingly difficult — and the inflating of a balloon from a container of compressed air — made harder by the difficulty of maintaining a tight seal. A final challenge was a Ferris wheel that could be turned in one direction or the other by robots on opposite sides of the field; the number of rotations the Ferris wheel made served to multiply the points gained through successful completion of the other tests.