6.141 Students Create Robots Ready For Mars

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6.141 Students Create Robots Ready For Mars
Photo: Jason Dorfman, CSAIL photographer
A fleet of robots gathers and collects blocks during the 6.141 project demonstrations.

Crowds of EECS students, faculty and staff stood in stunned silence as Twitch- a robot constructed and programmed by 6.141 students Owen Derby, Minh Phan, Jake Shapiro, Caine Jette and Nandi Bugg- gracefully maneuvered a tight corner and squeezed through a narrow wooden entryway collision-free.

“You successfully navigated the Death Zone!” said Professor Daniela Rus to cheers of delight from the gathered crowd.

Last Friday, May 6 marked the culmination of 6.141, Robotics: Science and Systems I, when students powered up and set free the robots they had spent seven weeks building and programming with a specific task in mind: building a shelter on Mars. Once set loose in a wooden obstacle course in the 38-630 lab space, the robots were tasked with navigating the space, picking up and sorting the various colored blocks scattered about the space and, ultimately, building some sort of structure. Each group was given 10 minutes to demonstrate its robot’s capabilities and explain how and why they designed it in the manner they did.

“The project is very complex,” said Rus. “The students have to learn about robust navigation, systems operation, and grasping and manipulation of an object.” Additionally, Rus explained that the course offers students a creative opportunity, as they are allowed free reign in designing and developing their robots.

The results of the challenge were astounding, with students creating everything from a robot that sorted collected blocks into an arch to a robot that created small columns of blocks and left them distributed throughout the obstacle course. Another robot was able to build a large solid wall by sorting blocks into two different compartments.

David Benhaim, Scott Bezek, Ahmed Bakkar, Chao He and Matthew Perkins decided the challenge of building a structure on Mars could be best solved with a fleet of robots, with one mother ship directing the two smaller robots to pick up and collect the blocks. Bezek explained that his group was hoping to not only take a “cool approach” to the project, but also create an efficient system for building a shelter.

“I was very impressed by how well everybody did,” said Rus. “Three-quarters of the robots completed the challenge in technically creative and robust ways during the first round, and the rest of the robots did well during the second round. Each one of the groups did something special, creative and successful. The students' enthusiasm and hard work has been infectious and inspirational!”

To view images from the 6.141 project demonstrations, check out http://projects.csail.mit.edu/galleries/main.php?g2_itemId=7381.

Abby Abazorius, CSAIL