Metro

Robots compete for glory in a Willy Wonka-themed obstacle course at MIT

Seji Engelkemier of Mahwah, N.J., was one of the MIT students from an undergraduate mechanical engineering course to compete in a Willy Wonka -themed robot competition that involved both autonomous and remote-controlled sessions.
Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe
Seji Engelkemier of Mahwah, N.J., was one of the MIT students from an undergraduate mechanical engineering course to compete in a Willy Wonka -themed robot competition that involved both autonomous and remote-controlled sessions.
Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe
Claudia Chen of Overland Park, Kan., reacted as her robot competes in the autonomous portion of the competition.

Robots whizzing through a course of golden tickets and Oompa Loompas inside an ice rink, while engineering students intently watch the world of their creation.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s annual 2.007 Robot Competition took over the university’s Johnson Ice Rink Thursday – and this year’s theme was Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Thirty-two finalists, selected from 165 entries, competed in five sudden-death rounds to take the title of best robot. The competition, dubbed “Calculated Imagination,” was based on creativity and innovation, but also served as the final project for students in the Design and Manufacturing I class.

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Amos Winter, an associate mechanical engineering professor, helps lead the class and chooses the theme for the competition each year.

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“Every year we brainstorm many themes,” Winter said. “We consider them both from the standpoint of how fun they would be for the students and what mechanical engineering principles we could build into them.”

Winter said he also polls former students in the class about the themes.

“Willy Wonka stood out because most students remember it from their childhood, and the chocolate room was a good venue to create mechanical challenges,” Winter said. “The name ‘Calculated Imagination’ is a play on the song Willy sings, ‘Pure Imagination.’ As engineers, we can do better than ‘pure’ - we can do ‘calculated.’ ”

The competition began at 6:30 p.m. and involved students navigating their bots through a gameboard style course, in which they were tasked with collecting golden tickets, lifting Oompa Loompas, and picking up golden eggs.

Daniel Wiest of Homer, Alaska, works out a hitch with his scissor-lift robot following a round of competition. Weist was one of the MIT students from an undergraduate mechanical engineering course to compete in a Willy Wonka - themed robot competition that involved both autonomous and remote-controlled sessions. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe (Metro, ruckstuhl)
Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe
Daniel Wiest of Homer, Alaska, worked out a hitch with his scissor-lift robot.

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Students are given a kit of raw materials to build a robot from scratch, Winter said. The student whose robot survives the most rounds by earning the most points emerges victorious.

“The students are not graded on the final competition, only on their work leading up to it,” Winter said. “You can earn an ‘A’ with a robot that scores zero points but that demonstrates good engineering and design skills. Each student runs their robot in the competition, so they have the chance to show off their work in front of their friends.”

Carolynn Will of Foxborough also competed.
Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe
Carolynn Will of Foxborough also competed.

Laney Ruckstuhl can be reached at laney.ruckstuhl@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laneyruckstuhl.