What is 6.270?

February 2, 2012Posted by Zach


The Lego Robotics Design Competition, otherwise known as 6.270, is one of MIT's first and most infamous hands on design classes. It was started in 1987 by Mike Parker as an answer to course 2's own design class. What separated the two though was that 6.270's robots were entirely autonomous, meaning that from the second they got into the contest, no human intervention was allowed. In the early days, these robots were simply simulated by programs running on a virtual course. But after a few years the organizers saw the need to have something with which to build actual robots.

This presented a problem, they needed tons of material that was safe and easy to build with, and most importantly, was cheap. This is when they turned to LEGO's. From then on the robots ceased to be lines of code competing on a virtual field, and became real, moving, fully operational machines. Moreover the addition of advanced sensors and servos over the years has given way to more intricate robots, and more difficult tasks.

Each year there is a new challenge presented to the students, a sort of obstacle course that the students must design for presented within the context of a grand theme. These have ranged from elevated platforms the robots must not fall from, to rings full of robotic mice the competitors must catch. This year however, the design contained not one but three challenges in a competition called Feudal Frenzy.

Feudal Frenzy (6.270 2012)

February 2, 2012Posted by Zach


Two hundred and seventy years into the new millennium, Earth has been mostly abandoned, and the only remaining inhabitants are the humans who chose to stay following the destruction of Earth's natural resources and the mass exodus of 3276.

Condemning the technology that scarred the landscape before, they live much like the people of the medieval times, with castles, kingdoms and a primitive agrarian society. Plagued by war and disease, much like in the past, humans are living in a new dark age. Hunger and tribal warfare threaten to destroy humanity forever.

Long dormant robots, developed by wise men and women alive before the apocalypse, arise from the depths of the mines of Miasmador. In the final hour, these robots will battle for supremacy by demonstrating their superior resource gathering and leadership abilities to win the support of future generations, and save us from destruction.

The challenge for us as competitors was to make a robot that was capable of completing four tasks. First it had to "explore the land" which involved doing a full circle around the board in the first ten seconds of each round. Next the robot had to "capture a territory." This involved turning a gear-box on the side of the ring a specific direction enough to trip a sensor. Completing this task allowed you to move on to the next one which was to "mine" resources from that territory. This was done by pulling down a lever located next to the gearbox that would release a ping pong ball from a cache above which your robot must then catch. Finally before the match is over the robot had to somehow deposit it's resources into a center receptacle which served as your home base or "castle".

The tasked were scored and the point of the matches was to rack up more points than your opponent at the task before the two minute time limit was up. You received 30 points for each territory besides your own the robot explored in the first 10 seconds. Turning the gears earned 100 points, and finally you would get 40 points for each ping pong ball you released or deposited.

In the end, our robot was able to win it's first match, but in the process the mechanism for turning the gearboxes was broken and we then weren't able to get any more than 150 points from a round. We ended up loosing in the third round and and placing 15th overall. But although our final performance was short, my team mate and I learned a lot from our experience in 6.270.

What I Learned From 6.270

February 2, 2012Posted by Maddy


Even though Zargoz didn't do very well in the final competition, I think I learned a lot from participating in 6.270. I've done a lot of coding before but my experience with coding for hardware applications was limited. I don't think I realized before 6.270 (or maybe I'd just forgotten), how difficult and time-consuming it can be to debug a robot. Maybe if we had attached some LEDs, or an LCD screen, or made the robot talk, it would have been easier... but instead we just played the game of 'huh, I wonder why it spun in circles going left this time... usually it goes right!' For a while we had a nice swiveling head that could 'signal' to us when pieces of the code were reached, but in the rebuilt we took it off. So I guess one of the big things I would do differently if I did 6.270 again would be to set up a nice debugging system on the chassis itself.

There's a nice quote from 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' that kind of describes the next lesson I learned from the whole thing. King Bumi tells Aang that he must find an earth-bending teacher who 'waits and listens to the earth.' Our robot was significantly smaller than all of the other ones - something that definitely contributed to our lack of success in the competition. Before the rebuild, it would have been extremely difficult to navigate with the precision necessary for our hardware to work. After the rebuild, navigation was easier but the robot was still way too small - when it got to a gearbox, the whole robot would tip up in the air and the gears wouldn't turn. I think if we had waited, and paid more attention to what was and wasn't working for other groups, we could have build a much more successful robot.

Perhaps the most obvious, but also the most important, lesson I took out of 6.270 is that the amount of time you put into something is almost directly correlated to what you get out of it. Many of the teams spent many hours in lab every day whereas Zach and I could only make it to lab for scattered hours throughout IAP as we were both pretty busy with other things. If we had dedicated more time to building the robot, we difinitely could have gotten more out of it.

Overall though, 6.270 was a great experience! I had a lot of fun and learned a lot about programming for hardware applications. The organizers did a great job of making the whole thing very exciting and educational, and I would definitely do it again given the chance. Thank you!