December 1, 2010

As Robots Battle, Engineers Put Theory to the Test

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A group of more than 100 mechanical engineers had a chance to take out their pent-up aggression Wednesday in Duffield Atrium, where the students in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering 3780: Mechatronics pitted their self-made robots against each other for extra credit and pride.      “Everything we’ve been learning has kind of been building up to this point,” said Jim McMullen ’11, a student in the class. The class, taught by Prof. Hadas Kress-Gazit, mechanical engineering, had been working on the bots since the week of Nov. 8, applying theory they had been learning since the beginning of the semester. The double-elimination tournament featured rows of small black circles, several feet wide. Each robot, specified to be smaller than 20 by 20 centimeters, aimed to push its opponent out of the circle. With more than 48 teams and three people on each team, there were a wide variety of designs, varying from “snow-plow” devices to more abstract strategies. One robot had spinning propeller blades on the side, which Kress-Gazit said were particularly successful in forcing other bots out of the ring. Another robot featured a mousetrap, which aimed to flip its opposition. Yet another machine had a deflating balloon apparatus, which was also attached with the intention of flipping other bots. Despite the variation in designs, the bots shared some similarities. Every machine was equipped with a sonar device, which allowed the bots to find each other in the ring. This sonar device helped make the robots completely autonomous, working without any remote or control from teams. According to Kress-Gazit, the winning bot had been equipped with sonar devices on the front and back, which gave it an edge in finding its opponent much faster.              The event drew a small crowd of curious onlookers hoping to watch robot brutality; most were not disappointed. “It’s just a really fun class to watch,” said Wences Lee ’12, who was a student in the class last year. According to Kress-Gazit, the “battle bots” competition has been going on for several years, although this is the first year she has taught the class. Aside from a $20 budget for each robot, students had control over almost every aspect of the project. “They do the mechanical design, the coding, [determine] which kind of motors and the strategy,” Kress-Gazit said. Renée Rappisi’s ’12 team opted for a more “defensive” strategy, stretching a web of rubber bands across the front of their machine. The rubber bands were meant to protect against the jutting weapons coming out the front of many other robots. Rappisi also noted that her team’s robot used a motor from a Roomba vacuum cleaner, taking advantage of the rule that bots had to be assembled from other objects students already owned. “It’s exciting … knowing that we can build something out of the theoretical knowledge we learned in class,” Rappisi said.

Original Author: Brendan Doyle