Concepts familiar from grade-school algebra have broad ramifications in computer science.
MIT's 36th annual festival of extreme engineering, the famed robot competition that takes its name -- 2.007 -- from a sophomore mechanical engineering course, will be held on May 16 and 17 in the Johnson Athletic Center. The contest begins at 6 p.m. both nights.
About 150 students are participating in the course, which began in February and concludes next week with the nail-biting, 45-second elimination-round tournament. Each student designs and builds a robot from a bin of parts, taking it from concept to computer model and then engineering and "shipping" their machines.
"I Have To Fantastically Pass" (IHTFP), the 2006 iteration of 2.007, offers a benign, even hospitable-looking playing field, compared to past competitions. All the robots must gather balls of varying weights and sluice them downhill into bins of varying widths. The wider the bin, the lower your "grade," with the narrowest bin representing "A."
But gravity is not the automatic friend of this year's contestants, according to Mark Cote, a junior in mechanical engineering and winner of last year's contest, "Tic Tech Toe."
Cote, who has been working as an undergraduate teaching assistant (UA), helping the 2006 contestants, shared a former victor's perspective on "IHTFP."
As in 2005, "robots must score quickly and precisely while navigating a challenging course. Maneuverability is the key this year, since aligning a 'shot' from the top level will be fairly tricky. Robots that are versatile enough to navigate the entire board will do quite well," Cote said.
The contest is a challenge, but, he said, "you have the best resources in the world around you. My UA's were a huge help -- whenever I couldn't figure out how to make something or how to attach a mechanism, they helped me dissect the problem. It's exciting to be a resource to students this year."
As for getting ahead in "IHTFP," Cote advised the 2006 contestants, "Finish early! It takes about two weeks to work out all of the kinks while learning how to drive the robot," he cautioned.
Cote also offered a veteran's view of the odds, 2.007-style.
"The best robot very rarely wins. It's usually the person with the best skill driving their robot. It's like a video game: The practiced students do quite well," he said.
Like generations of 2.007 contestants before him, Cote longs to jump in again. He actually built a sample car earlier in the term, he said.
As for life after 2.007, that's when the "real-world engineering starts. The consequences of poor engineering decisions become collapsed bridges and lawsuits instead of a flipped over RC car," he said. "2.007 is the gateway of a progression from student to engineer."