AMERICAN FRONTIERS PROGRAM #1208
"Games Machines Play "
AIRDATE: May 21, 2002
ALDA This is a show about contests -- contests between
machines and the people, mostly students, who built
them. Contests are fun, they're exciting and they're
a great way to learn. But as we'll see, the creative
edge generated by the very human desire to win is also
pushing the development of these machines. And some
of them are able to do surprisingly human things. Welcome
to the world of robot soccer.
MANUELA VELOSO Go, go,
go, go, go, go, go, go, go!
ALDA There he goes. There he goes.
ALDA (NARRATION) We're in Seattle for the finals of
ALDA Pushed it in with his chest. Pass, pass, pass!
MANUELA VELOSO Ah, there you go, yeah.
ALDA (NARRATION) But we first met the players and their
makers a couple of years ago, on a visit to Carnegie
Mellon University in Pittsburgh. There the CM United
team was being put through its paces by one of the founders
of the RoboCup contest, Manuela Veloso.
Shoot again, shoot!
ALDA (NARRATION) One of the stars of CM United was their
goalie. Trying to beat it gave me the chance to find
out how the robots know what to do.
ALDA How is this working? Does that little guy have
eyes in its head somehow?
MANUELA VELOSO No, actually
the robot does not have any eyes. There is a camera
that is overhead and sees the whole field.
ALDA (NARRATION) From the video image, a computer figures
out the position of the ball and any robots on the field.
Then it predicts the ball's current direction and speed
-- indicated by the length of the line. The computer
does this 30 times a second -- fast enough to cope with
all but the speediest shots.
MANUELA VELOSO There you
ALDA I went too fast.
STONE Vision's fine.
ALDA (NARRATION) Behind the scene, Peter Stone's running
the vision system, while Mike Bowling's laptop is sending
wireless instructions to the robots on the field. But
during competition, it's hands off.
ALDA You're not allowed, by the terms of the competition,
to give it any directions from a human during the game?
MANUELA VELOSO Yes, we can not give it any directions.
ALDA It all has to be done beforehand, as you design
MANUELA VELOSO Right. And the challenge
is that the domain, the task, is very uncertain. So
we have to up front program or make the robots think
about a very large number of situations.
ALDA (NARRATION) So success at robot soccer depends
not only on the speed and quick reactions of the robots,
but on the central computer's ability to read the game
and direct the players.
MANUELA VELOSO There's a pass,
ALDA (NARRATION) RoboCup 1999 was held in Stockholm.
Referee Three, two, one…
ALDA (NARRATION) It's the quarter finals between two
of the top teams in robot soccer. Watched by an audience
of computer scientists from around the world, the match
pits robots from Cornell University against a team from
Singapore -- and Cornell strikes first.
Oh, yeah! REFEREE Three, two, one…
ALDA (NARRATION) Cornell's robots are fast and strong,
and they convincingly beat the Singapore team, called
the Field Rangers. Manuela's CM United has also made
it to the quarter finals. But in this match they are
literally getting pushed around by the fast and aggressive
robots of another team from Singapore, Lucky Star. This
play sums up the match. A penalty attempt by CMU turns
into a beautiful goal for Lucky Star… who go on to crush
CM United 8 - 0. Now it's Cornell's turn to face Lucky
Star in the first semi-final.
RAFAELLO D'ANDREA This
is the fastest team that we've played against, so that
we have to be sure we can cope with their speed.
ALDA (NARRATION) Both teams have similar robots -- fast,
maneuverable two-wheelers that kick the ball mainly
by ramming into it. After two 10-minute halves of play,
RAFAELLO D'ANDREA Excellent game,
guys. Referee Three, two, one…
ALDA (NARRATION) In the final, Cornell is up against
a team from Berlin, called the FU Fighters. The German
team has made it this far thanks largely to a dramatic
innovation, a spinning bar that delivers a devastating
kick. In the end, Cornell's superior strategy wins out
over the FU Fighter's kick, and Cornell takes the championship.
MANUELA VELOSO And the first prize is for Big Red from
Cornell University who only suffered two goals during
the whole tournament.
ALDA (NARRATION) Also making an appearance at Stockholm
were RoboCup's first four-legged contestants. The robot
dogs were very obviously beginners. Unlike the wheeled
robots, each dog is on its own. It has to figure out
where it is with the help of a camera in its nose and
colored beacons around the field.
MANUELA VELOSO Go
blue! Go CMU!
ALDA (NARRATION) Goals were scored mostly by walking
the ball into the net… And the dog's walk was slow and
ungainly. But this was 1999. And as we said at the outset,
nothing pushes innovation like competition. Jump ahead
two years to RoboCup 2001 in Seattle. The dogs themselves
have undergone a makeover. But much more importantly,
most teams -- including Manuela Veloso's Carnegie Mellon
team -- have written new software programs for their
dogs that make them walk much faster.
ALDA It sort of crowds the ball into the goal.
ALDA (NARRATION) The CMU dogs' new and faster walk can
pose new dangers for the opposition.
ALDA Oh, it fell over.
MANUELA VELOSO Right there it
ALDA Did your guy knock him over do you think?
MANUELA VELOSO I think so. Not on purpose, but it just happened.
ALDA (NARRATION) But as the blue team rallies, CMU's
goalie -- down here at our end of the field -- seems
to have lost interest in the game.
MANUELA VELOSO This
is actually our goalie.
ALDA He's out to lunch.
MANUELA VELOSO We have a big
problem with the goalie so for the finals we have to…
ALDA Uh oh, here it comes, here it comes.
Oh but now I think that when it sees the ball it does
the right thing.
ALDA (NARRATION) Another innovation CMU introduced last
year is this elegant head swipe to move the ball up
the field. The coolest new move this year is a two legged
kick -- which starts as the dog drops to its haunches
ALDA There he goes, there he goes. Oh, he's moving nicely.
MANUELA VELOSO That was a nice goal, huh?
ALDA That was beautiful.
ALDA (NARRATION) Not only has competition sharpened
the dogs' skills -- so has cooperation. Every year,
each team shares its software secrets -- even the computer
code itself -- with all the rival teams. The result
is that everyone is building on everyone else's breakthroughs.
MANUELA VELOSO Years ago they could hardly see the ball.
They spent all the time just looking around, "where
am I, where am I." But now we take it for granted…
ALDA Everybody's improved because you've shared your
information, your knowledge. Of course, you wait until
after you win the game.
MANUELA VELOSO That's true.
ALDA (NARRATION) The team at the forefront of much of
this innovation is from Australia's University of New
South Wales, here playing in the other semi-final. This
year they've introduced another new kick. CLAUDE SAMMUT
When the ball is between the front legs of the robot,
if it does a quick turn, that will give you a flick
sideways, which is quite effective because it gets the
ball away from the opposition. There's a short range
kick, which is a push forward on the chest. And there's
another one which is two legs forward. You'll see other
teams doing that because they copied it from us last
ALDA (NARRATION) There's another new trick in the Australian's
play-book this year -- one that uses the dogs' sense
of hearing as well as sight. To avoid teammates scrapping
with each other, one robot will back off if it sees
a same-color dog with the ball. As it backs away it
whistles, letting the lead robot know where it is. It's
a tactic likely to be widely imitated next year -- and
this year has helped the Australians get to the finals
-- where CMU's goalie still hasn't quite figured out
its head from its tail. Final score, UNSW 9, CMU 2.
MANUELA VELOSO I'm very proud, very proud. Of course,
silver is not gold, but again, gold is just for one.
ALDA (NARRATION) It's not just the robot dogs whose
skills have improved for RoboCup 2001.
ALDA (NARRATION) Cornell's wheeled robots, the current
world champions in their league, can now move in any
direction while facing in any direction.
Okay, now this is going to be our ball control. This
is the hard test.
ALDA (NARRATION) The Cornell robots have also developed
a sophisticated passing game, aided by a spinning bar
to put backspin on the ball, holding it against the
robot while it maneuvers. In their quarter final match,
Cornell is up against a team from Portugal. The backspinner
comes into play at once as a Cornell robot tugs the
ball from a corner, turns and passes.
ALDA Yeah, wow! They're really good at passing.
RAFAELLO D'ANDREA Yup. Oh, nice save.
ALDA (NARRATION) Portugal is countering with aggressive
ALDA This other guy. He seems to be hitting your shins.
RAFAELLO D'ANDREA It is.
ALDA (NARRATION) Cornell has already played four games
in the tournament, winning them all handily. They seem
to have this game under control too, until after this
hard hit in the corner… CROWD Whoa! Whoa! Hey! (Clapping)
ALDA You've never had a goal scored on you?
RAFAELLO D'ANDREA No.
ALDA Until now.
RAFAELLO D'ANDREA Until now.
ALDA (NARRATION) As play resumes, the Cornell robots
remain in firm control of the mid-field, thanks to their
positioning and passing.
RAFAELLO D'ANDREA Whoa!
ALDA Jeez, what a pass. They can pass like, at an angle.
RAFAELLO D'ANDREA Oh yeah.
ALDA (NARRATION) But despite Cornell's passing, the
Portuguese defense holds them scoreless through the
first 10-minute half.
ALDA Why is this such a tense game?
RAFAELLO D'ANDREA They're a really good team. They're
playing our defense perfectly. They had a great opportunity.
Our defender was caught out of the zone. The other player
came in and very quickly was able to put the ball in.
ARMONDO SOUSA What we play is an aggressive system
that attacks the player with the ball soon, and that
prevents Cornell from making deadly passes. So, that's
the strong point of Cornell; that's the point we eliminated.
ALDA Can you make adjustments right now? Or do you have
to wait until next year?
RAFAELLO D'ANDREA No, we could.
In fact, that's what we're doing right now. We're analyzing
what happened when they scored. And we're making some
changes to the gains of the system to change how fast
they're moving, accelerating, their thresholds for passing,
for shooting, etc.
ALDA Your passing is kind of a dangerous tactic because
you're putting the ball out in the open. What's the
percentage of successful passes? Have you checked that
RAFAELLO D'ANDREA Roughly about 80 to 85%. It's
pretty high. And it's also fun for us to develop that,
too. Part of it is winning. We want to win and we also
want to play very well.
ALDA You want to look cool, too.
RAFAELLO D'ANDREA Yeah.
That's very important. Seriously.
ALDA Really? Wh does that add to it?
Part of what motivates us is trying to come up with
a system that is really fun to watch.
ALDA That was great! Oh!
ALDA (NARRATION) Cornell's mid-field play continues
to sparkle. But like many real-life soccer teams, once
in the goalmouth, they seem to falter. Then an over-aggressive
Portuguese robot shoves a Cornell player into the corner,
giving up a free kick.
RAFAELLO D'ANDREA Make a pass, make a pass.
ALDA (NARRATION) A few minutes later, the same thing
There will be a yellow card for potentially damaging
ALDA I love the lining it up like that.
ALDA (NARRATION) Final score, Cornell 2, Portugal 1.
SOUSA We put up a good fight. And I think Cornell also
has a bit of learning to do.
We didn't think they could score on us. So they really
surprised us by getting that goal. But in a sense, I'm
glad that it happened. Now we know we have a weakness
in our defense and we'll fix it for our next game.
ALDA (NARRATION) As Raff and his students plan their
changes, another quarter -final is underway.
That's a goal for the FU Fighters.
ALDA (NARRATION) This one is between a Spanish team
and the Berlin FU Fighters -- the robots with the faces.
This year the German team, like Cornell, have omnidirectional
robots on offense, but on defense they're relying on
their older hard- kicking machines. Like Cornell, the
FU Fighters' forwards maneuver more skillfully than
the Spanish robots -- and their defense is solid. But
also like Cornell, the Germans seem nervous in front
of the goalmouth. It turns out this is by design. One
of the rules of the game is that any contact with the
goalkeeper is penalized.
ALDA I saw one of your players there looking very nervous.
Backing up, moving forward, backing up. It looked like
he didn't know what to do. Had you changed his behavior
about the goalie at that point?
ROJAS No. Yeah. We did. We agreed….
ALDA You told him not to get too close.
ALDA (NARRATION) As the match progressed, the German
team tweaked their forward's behavior to make them a
little less concerned about hitting the goalie -- and
were rewarded with a convincing win. Cornell meanwhile
is in a tense semi-final confrontation with the Field
Rangers from Singapore -- the team they beat two years
ago in Stockholm. Once again, Cornell's dribbling mechanism
is setting up promising plays in the opponent's goalmouth.
ALDA Pass pass pass pass! Pass it!
ALDA (NARRATION) But the Field Rangers' reflexes are
lightning fast. At the half, Raff isn't happy
RAFAELLO D'ANDREA Okay. I have to see if I can figure out what's
ALDA Were you able to make a strategic change here?
RAFAELLO D'ANDREA Yeah. What we did is, hopefully the
change that we made will allow us have this player go
into the box so that he could receive a pass and put
it into the net.
ALDA (NARRATION) The second half features a superb attacking
move down the field, setting up the shot Raff is hoping
RAFAELLO D'ANDREA Here we go. Here we go. Here
ALDA Pass pass pass pass.
RAFAELLO D'ANDREA He will.
ALDA (NARRATION) But again, the Field Rangers are faster
to the ball -- and then the goalie simply steals it
ALDA Whoa, he stole it! Look at that!
ALDA (NARRATION) Seconds later, a Field Ranger robot
makes a brilliant attacking play.
ALDA Time out.
ANNOUNCER Three and a half minutes remaining
in this match, Singapore now having the lead.
ALDA (NARRATION) Cornell again sets up what seems like
a certain score -- and again is thwarted. After a three-year
undefeated run, Cornell is de-throned. In the other
semi-final, Berlin's FU Fighters get off to a spectacular
start against the second Singapore team to be defeated
by Cornell two years ago in Stockholm, Lucky Star.
How fast is this game going? Artificial intelligence
at 100 miles per hour. Look at these guys go. There's
no way a human can keep up with this kind of playing.
They're going far too fast.
ALDA (NARRATION) A free kick for Lucky Star…
ALDA (NARRATION) And it's the beginning of the end for
the FU Fighters. In the all-Singapore final, it's Lucky
Star who'll go on to become the new RoboCup champions.
ALDA What do you think are the next couple of steps
that we'll get to with game-playing robots?
MANUELA VELOSO So, we actually are trying to get to a point
where we can play with humans.
ALDA Play against a human?
MANUELA VELOSO With or against,
yes. So we'll go all the way until we play on a real
soccer field with humans. All the way.
ALDA (NARRATION) On display in Seattle is a little two-legged
robot called Pino, from the same company that manufactures
the robot dogs.
MANUELA VELOSO We are going to have
a competition, probably next year with these little
guys playing. They will be able to follow the ball again,
go to the ball and kind of kick it.
ALDA You do a very funny impersonation of a robot.
MANUELA VELOSO That's what they will be like.
ALDA You spend a lot of time with them; you get to be
able to do them.
MANUELA VELOSO That's how they look,
right? So far.
ALDA So far. Right.
ALDA (NARRATION) Neptune is a submarine, built by students
at the University of Michigan. It will soon be filled
with water -- and propelled by human pedal power.
ALDA How many people will be in this boat?
OLSOFSKY There are two people in this boat. And they
ALDA Is it the biggest boat here?
OLSOFSKY Oh yes.
MATT OLSOFSKY Oh yes. It gets moving.
ALDA (NARRATION) Neptune is one of some 15 boats entered
in the 2001 human-powered submarine race.
ROVNER Are we ready to race? Okay, we're gonna do a
race right now, so…"
ANNOUNCER Michigan. Michigan. Michigan. Michigan.
ALDA (NARRATION) We've strapped a camera on Neptune
to get a sense of what it's like to lunge at a fast
walking pace through the nearly ink-black water of an
immensely long indoor tank. Just outside Washington
DC, the tank is more usually employed testing new ship
designs for the US Navy. Ten years ago, the human-powered
sub races were held in the sunny waters off a Florida
beach. Pairs of submarines raced each other around a
ANNOUNCER Okay, I see the first boat
coming. It's the Benthos boat. Holy smokes, is it pulling.
ALDA (NARRATION) Beating most of the opposition was
a boat from the Benthos Corporation of Cape Cod -- one
of the few boats built by people who construct submarines
for a living.
One more race, that's all we got, one more race left.
If they can get us off the starting block clean tomorrow
we should have a damn good chance at it.
ALDA (NARRATION) Most of the other competitors in 1991
failed to complete the course, because of bad luck…
bad driving… or bad design. But a boat built by students
from Florida Atlantic University put on a flawless performance.
As in the Benthos sub, one person steered while a second
pedaled in the rear. One of the secrets of their success
was plenty of practice in ocean conditions
COULSON Up until now we've kinda held back a bit, make
sure we've got round the cords to not get tangled in
any buoys. Today we're gonna take a few chances.
ALDA (NARRATION) So into the starting gate for the final
go the students of Florida Atlantic University -- and
the professionals of the Benthos Corporation. The race
is twice around the track -- a total of one half mile.
ANNOUNCER They're going into the second turn right now
and starting towards the back straightaway. They're
still not more than five feet apart, They're really
moving now. There's the FAU boat passing the finish
line and the other boat's right behind them. They're
about eight feet apart.
ALDA (NARRATION) It ended in an upset win for Florida
Atlantic -- and an opportunity to remember what contests
like this are really all about.
ATLANTIC We took this baby from the just basic conception
to actually building it, and testing it and getting
it to run. And that's what engineering's all about.
So basically they're just training us to be engineers.
This is the result.
ALDA (NARRATION) With the human powered submarine race
now in the calmer waters of the Navy's testing tank,
that 1991 race remains vividly in the mind of one of
JUSTIN HLAVIN Back when I was younger,
about nine or ten years old, I watched the program,
Scientific American Frontiers, on the initial races
and just being a scuba diver then and seeing what they
were doing, I became highly interested. It really played
into which colleges I chose and I actually went and
interviewed with those teams to see how organized the
teams were and to see which one I would want to join.
ALDA You picked the school according to their chances
for the race.
JUSTIN HLAVIN I wanted to be with a good
ALDA Isn't that great?
ALDA (NARRATION) The team that Justin eventually joined
-- and now leads -- is from Virginia Tech University.
Their boat, the Phantom, is very different from the
subs of a decade ago. Most significantly, it's both
powered and steered by only one person, making it much
smaller, sleeker -- and faster -- than the subs of old.
ANNOUNCER V-Tech, V-Tech, V-Tech, V-Tech.
ALDA (NARRATION) The race is different too -- it's now
a pure time trial, the subs sprinting one at a time
along a straight 100-metre course. The emphasis is on
raw speed. In the early races it was rare for a sub
to go faster than three knots. Justin is hoping to take
the Phantom up to as much as 6 knots. The critical part
of the course is the speed trap in the middle… a 10-metre
section marked with illuminated white poles.
Number two. Got him.
ALDA (NARRATION) At the end of the 100-metres, a team
of Navy divers helps slow the subs to a halt. Justin's
time on this run is still well short of the 6 knots
he's hoping for.
ROVNER One-sixtieth of a second we can time it down
to. So we're giving very accurate, you know, very accurate
ALDA So someone could win by one-sixtieth of a second?
JERRY ROVNER Yes.
ALDA (NARRATION) During the five days of the meet, everyone
gets to take as many runs down the course as they can.
While many of the subs here are single -person like
the Phantom -- and this on, the Bull Dog, built by a
high school team -- there are still a few 2-person boats.
Most of them are steered by one diver and pedaled by
another in the rear, making them not much faster than
the subs of a decade ago. An exception is the University
of Michigan's Neptune, in which both divers pedal. This
makes the Neptune quicker than the other 2-person subs
-- but also harder to control. This isn't the first
time that Neptune has ended a run by ramming into the
side or bottom of the tank.
ALDA How'd you do?
OLSOFSKY Well, looks like we lost control.
ALDA What happens to you when you see you're gonna crash?
FINN I prepare to crash. I feel the bottom's coming,
I dump my regulator, kinda get out of the way. I watch
the nose coning plod into my face.
ALDA You know, I've been asking people all day, why
they do this? But I think you're the best one to ask
because you have your face up in the nose and you're
liable to crash at any moment. Why do you do it?
FINN Crash helmet. These guys thought I would need a
crash helmet for all the crashing I've been doing this
week. I guess for the competition of it. And just -I'm
one of the naval architects on the team and this is
what we do, so…
ALDA (NARRATION) Not everyone here is an engineering
student pushing for raw speed. Bob Golobic, for instance…
ALDA Hi. Can we talk to you for a second? Are you getting
ready to go now?
ROBERT GOLOBIC No, I'm in the queue.
ALDA Oh, you're in the--. When do you go?
ROBERT GOLOBIC Like about last.
ALDA How long have you been in training with this group?
ROBERT GOLOBIC I've been in training for 30 years.
ALDA Did you build it?
GOLOBIC Yes, I constructed it in my garage.
ALDA Do you have anything special about this that you
think is a design feature that may put me ahead of other
people? ROBERT GOLOBIC Ah, no. If I had an electric
ALDA (NARRATION) Bob's sub is called the Reef Cruiser,
an elegant twin-propeller design built more for comfort
ALDA There he is. There he is.
Come on, reef cruiser.
ALDA (NARRATION) Bob's goal is simply to complete the
ALDA Everybody's cheering him on. "Come on, you're almost
Come on, reef cruiser. I think I can. I think I can.
ALDA He's just got a few feet to go. He's twisting and
Give him a push.
ALDA Go straight.
ALDA (NARRATION) After six starts, Bob finally finishes.
ALDA Do you have your breath?
ROBERT GOLOBIC Oh, absolutely.
ALDA Do you want to hold on?
ROBERT GOLOBIC Yeah, I would like that.
ALDA Good for you. That was fantastic. Did you go past
the finish line backwards? Is that what you did?
GOLOBIC No, no. Sideways.
GOLOBIC Yeah. Sideways.
ALDA (NARRATION) At the other end of the spectrum from
Reef Cruiser is this slender, torpedo-like submarine
from the Montreal School of Technology.
Omer, Omer, Omer.
ALDA (NARRATION) Omer-4 seems scarcely big enough even
to contain its driver, let alone allow him to pedal.
It leaps out of the starting gate and streaks down the
course a good two knots faster than any other team here
is even dreaming of. On this run it sets a new world
ANNOUNCER 7.019 knots.
TEAMMATE Wo-hoo! Bring it home, baby. Bring it home.
ALDA (NARRATION) As well as its sleek hull, minimizing
the drag of the water, Omer-4 has a unique design breakthrough
in its tail -- a computer that can change the pitch
of the propeller. As the sub's speed picks up, the bite
the propeller takes of the water is gradually increased.
In effect, the computer matches the pitch of the propeller
to the speed of the sub, producing the maximum thrust
no matter how fast the sub is moving.
ALDA Is the main thing that's helping you get that fast
is the ability to control the propellers?
With a variable pitch, what it does is enables us to
generate thrust even at speed zero. So it still can
move forward. So as the pitch varies, we increase our
speed more rapidly than other teams.
ALDA (NARRATION) The Montreal team came with two pilots
for their sub. This run is being taken by the junior
of the pair, Jeremy Lebel.
ALDA Wow, that's fast. Where are you? What is your speed?
JEREMY LEBEL That race it was 7.119.
ALDA That's now the top speed for a human-powered sub?
JEREMY LEBEL Exactly.
ALDA (NARRATION) While Omer-4 has been steadily breaking
records, another one-person sub has been surprising
everyone. It's manned by 18-year old Logan Rainard
ALDA Did you build this yourself?
LOGAN RAINARD Yeah.
I designed it last summer and my neighbor and my friend
Ed Liebolt who's an ocean engineer here at David Taylor
and is right behind me. Ed, stop eating and come here.
LOGAN RAINARD He helped me build
it. Probably built about… I built half and he built
ALDA How long did it take you?
LOGAN RAINARD Oh, we
started in January and we were finished and in the water
and running in April, so--.
ALDA That was really fast, huh?
LOGAN RAINARD We built
it really fast. Like any ship, you design it around
the power plant of the boat. And the power plant is
me in this case.
ANNOUNCER Scuba-doo. Scuba-doo.
ALDA (NARRATION) Over the five days of racing, Logan's
Scooba-Doo has completed every run it's taken -- and
on one run has posted a speed of 5.088 knots -- second
only to Omer-4. The other boat competing for second
place is Virginia Tech's Phantom -- Justin Hlavin's
boat. This run is being taken by the crew's female pilot,
Dotty McDowell. A few runs before this one, Dotty broke
the woman-powered submarine record with a speed of 4.348
ALDA How'd you do?
DOTTY MCDOWELL Pretty good. A little
faster this time.
ALDA Are you worn out after that?
DOTTY MCDOWELL Yeah.
I tried to catch my breath.
ALDA When did you start to give it everything you got?
DOTTY MCDOWELL Usually when I start to see any kind
of light in front of me. Because they light the ten
DOTTY MCDOWELL Ah--. Let me catch my breath
for a minute.
ALDA (NARRATION) Justin Hlavin has been hoping to push
Phantom as fast as 6 knots. But he's hampered by a makeshift
propeller -- actually the tail rotor of a helicopter
-- because the planned propeller didn't get made in
time. So Justin's team has asked to borrow a propeller
from Logan's Scuba-Doo
JUSTIN There is a propeller.
Let's see if it'll work.
ALDA You're using a propeller that you borrowed from
the high school team?
JUSTIN HLAVIN Yes. They are going
faster than us. We asked them to borrow it. We just
want to see what we can do. The hull shape itself is
a very fast hull shape. It was specifically designed
to go above six knots. And we just need to find the
power to do it now.
ALDA (NARRATION) With Logan's propeller providing the
power, Justin's run was just 7 one hundredths of a knot
slower than Logan's.
ALDA Justin, you look like you were flying.
It's the prop that made the difference. I was very conservative
on that run just trying to figure out what it could
do. And now that I know how to control the boat, and
how that prop feels, I'm prepared to let her loose,
to see what she can do.
ALDA (NARRATION) But Justin never did attempt another
run, not wanting to use Logan's propeller to snatch
away his second place.
LOGAN RAINARD So we're still
second place as it is right now by very very very close.
And um, Michigan is in the process of going right now
and they're looking pretty fast, too. So, I'm a little
worried but there isn't anything I can do about anything
right now except sit here and watch the times come up.
ALDA (NARRATION) With time left for one last run, the
huge Michigan sub -- containing one-and a half tons
of water as well as its two-man crew -- slowly accelerated
away. Unlike most of the other subs, Neptune takes much
of the 100-metre course to reach its top speed. But
when it did…
MATT OLSOFKY That was a great run.
ALDA 4.9. Wow.
MATT OLSOFKY Great. Best one ever.
ALDA (NARRATION) Best one ever at 4.905 knots -- but
still not quite enough to overtake Justin Hlavin's Phantom
in third place or Logan Rainard's Scuba-Doo in second.
Omer-4 -- over two knots faster than the rest of the
field -- remains the boat to beat: in the next human
powered submarine races set for the year 2003.
ALEX SLOCUM 3-2-1-go.
ALDA (NARRATION) It's time again for the grand-daddy
of all the student engineering contests -- the annual
battle of machines built by sophomores at MIT.
VARADY Now comes the fun part. Calling my mom.
Double win! Yeah!
ALDA (NARRATION) This year's contest -- hatched six-months
earlier -- involves a teeter-totter beam and a swinging
8lb ball. The challenge is to build a machine that starts
out sitting on the beam and that after exactly 45 seconds
has managed to tilt it in its favor -- against an opponent
trying to do the same thing. There's a 10lb weight limit
for each machine… and a box of parts to make it from.
Each of the hundred plus students in the contest --
which is actually a course in mechanical engineering
-- gets an identical kit of stuff -- including several
electric motors from home power tools as well as things
which seem like mechanical leftovers.
ALDA What would you do with this?
ERIC VARADY Nobody in the class knows what that is.
We had a…
ALDA Is that true? No one knows what it is?
VARADY No one knows how they're gonna use it.
ASSISTANT Usually people just do this: pop it in, take
the motor and do something with the motor and then toss
that back in there. What it is good for is--.
ALDA It is a mistake to toss that away?
ALDA (NARRATION) After several weeks of brainstorming
and designing their machines on paper and computer,
the class sets to work manufacturing them. And it's
now that some of the strategies the students have come
up with begin being tested. Grinding sharp spikes is
Jessica Baker, one of several with a plan to have their
machines reach down and grab the carpet underneath the
beam. Alex Slocum is the professor running the course,
and one of a dozen MIT staff helping the students translate
their designs into reality.
ALEX SLOCUM Oh! So that's
about ten or fifteen pounds up. From one tooth. Imagine
if you had twenty teeth.
ALEX SLOCUM When they build a machine and they do the
calculations right, the machine works, and you get this
intense "er", just like a geek gasm from knowing that
what you created in your mind and on the computer is
actually doing what you told it to do.
JESSICA BAKER It's gonna be dropped from up above there
by the strings. And these things grab into the carpet,
theoretically. If I can grip the carpet well enough,
I can harness the full power of the motors.
ALDA (NARRATION) Here's another plan to pull the beam
WILL LARK This locks on to prevent the whole mechanism
from falling off the beam once it drives to the end.
It takes about 15 seconds.
ALDA (NARRATION) This is Will Lark.
WILL LARK Once it's
flipped open, this rock represents the car, which will
drive over here, attach with magnets and reel the beam
ALDA (NARRATION) In contrast to Jessica and Will's plan
to tug the beam downwards, Nick Martin intends to jack
MARTIN It will drop off the beam, drive over to the
opponent's side, and then raise the jack to raise the
beam, thus changing the angle.
ALDA (NARRATION) Ernesto Blanco has been helping students
in this course for over 20 years. The contest changes,
but not its intent.
BLANCO Practically everything in mechanical design is
involved here. And we're happy to be able to give the
students that kind of an experience. And at the same
time, a little bit of frustration.
KHEMANI It's an awesome class. It's very very productive
and I've learned so much in this course. It's amazing.
But it's also very stressful.
ALDA (NARRATION) It's now just a few days before the
contest and a hundred machines are taking shape.
ALEX SLOCUM About mid year there were some worries
that maybe the contest was a little too complicated.
And, oh my goodness, the students were having a really
tough time. But in reality, what they were doing is
they were hidden in their warrens, working away on solutions
that, when they surfaced, just "whoa!"-blew our minds
with how elaborate and cool they were.
TEACHER Folks, it's two days before delivery time,
so let's see what you got.
ERIC VARADY So the plan is, this guy, all he does is
he goes from here to here and then these syringes apply
500lbs of force…
ALDA (NARRATION) Eric Varady has a plan similar to Will
VARADY And it clamps down so it can't be moved.
ALDA (NARRATION) He drops a car off the beam and uses
it to place magnets on a metal strip, then winches his
side of the beam down. The car is then free to roam…
VARADY If there are any robots on the ground, which
is what I'm really afraid of, it can take them out.
ALDA (NARRATION) Nick Martin, meanwhile, has almost
finished his mobile jack.
NICK MARTIN The goal is to drop the robot off the beam,
onto the ground, drive to the other side of this beam,
and then raise this jack, and then push their side of
the beam up. This strategy of winching to the magnets
will produce a lot of force. I'm worried about robots
VARADY I'm worried about him, so hey!
ALDA (NARRATION) Jessica Baker's carpet grabber is also
almost done -- and testing well.
BAKER I think I need to perfect that carpet driver so
it digs in more. But I'm happy with how the rest of
ALDA (NARRATION) Sarah Mendelowitz's machine is designed
to give her opponent a jolt -- then, like Jessica's,
drop a carpet grabber to the floor. A winch then hauls
the beam down.
Nice. That's sweet.
Okay ready? We're gonna have a run.
ALDA (NARRATION) Will Lark, meanwhile, has built his
car but dropped the idea of using it to place magnets.
Now he plans to simply drive away, pulling out telescoping
rods to maximize his leverage.
We have a winner against the brick.
ALDA (NARRATION) After 14 weeks of design, construction
and testing, the machines face one last hurdle.
LAB ASSISTANT Fit it in the box, however you can get
ALDA (NARRATION) To qualify for the contest, every machine
must fit within the box its parts came in.
ASSISTANT Is it in straight?
ASSISTANT Put the lid on please.
ALDA (NARRATION) The machines must also weigh no more
than the 10lb limit.
ERIC VARADY Oy!
ASSISTANT What can you get rid of?
VARADY I can drop one of these clamps.
LAB ASSISTANT Do whatever you have to. You have less
than two hours.
ERIC VARADY Heh.
ALDA (NARRATION) Kateri Garcia machine just slips in
under the weight limit -- as does, eventually, Eric's.
ERIC VARADY Yes! Yes!
KATERI GARCIA Everybody has to
put their machines away with the lock placed backwards,
so they know you've been impounded. And you're not allowed
to touch your machine until Tuesday morning, the morning
of the competition. At that point you can decorate or
do whatever you want. As long as you don't change any
of the mechanics of your machine. So I'm glad it's out
of my hands and I'm really excited for the competition.
ALDA (NARRATION) It's now the first of two days of head
to head competition -- with no second chances. One loss,
and your machine is eliminated.
VARADY I'm nervous and I'm a little stressed out by
that because, I mean, it's all fun. But I spent so much
time on this, so much time that, ah, I want my money's
ALDA (NARRATION) Before an expectant crowd in MIT's
ice hockey arena…
ALEX SLOCUM 3-2-1-go!
ALDA (NARRATION) … Nick Martin's machine, flawless in
tests, doesn't give him his money's worth.
NICK It fell over, and that's kind of depressing. I've
never seen that before. I tested it, I ran it, but,
you know, I guess that's what engineering's all about.
ALDA (NARRATION) Nick's isn't the only machine to dash
weeks of hard work in a few seconds of competition.
Kateri Garcia's machine, designed to bulldoze her opponent
off the beam, this round simply has to cling on. Sarah
Mendelowitz's jolting mechanism fails to flip open.
But her carpet grabber takes a firm grip and pulls her
to an easy victory. Will Lark's already made it through
a couple of easy wins. And again his machine works as
advertised -- almost. His car never really finds its
feet, but still pulls the telescoping rods out far enough
to get the leverage to win. Here's the view from above
the beam -- featuring a robot that's using the bulldozer
technique: shove the opponent off the beam -- then drive
back to your end to tilt the beam down. The bulldozing
robot was built by Malima Wolf.
WOLF It's a pretty powerful robot, and, it's pretty
simple, but, like, it doesn't have a problem falling
off the beam which a lot of the robots do. So, it works.
ALDA (NARRATION) Here's another mobile jack. Dropped
off the beam, it's driven over to the opponent's side
and smoothly lifts it into the air. Will DelHagen is
the piston's designer and builder, and it's obviously
a machine to be reckoned with. Now watch carefully.
See that projectile flying over the yellow ball? It's
attached to a string from a robot that's just been bulldozed
off the beam.
WONG Oh my god!
ALDA (NARRATION) But Alison Wong's not out of it yet.
By grabbing the pendulum, Alison manages to keep most
of the weight of the whole system on her side of the
fulcrum -- and pulls off a win that seems to surprise
her more than anyone. Eric Varady's already breezed
through several early rounds. The magnets and the winch
have provided all the power he's needed. So far his
car has had no opponents needing to be harassed.
VARADY It worked perfectly. So, if it keeps up, I got
a really good chance.
ALDA (NARRATION) Jessica Baker's also been doing well
with her carpet grabber. But this time it's up against
another of those mobile jacks. And before Jessica has
a chance to do any serious winching…
BAKER He has a really nice machine. I was hoping to
get down there really fast and lift up the carpet so
he wouldn't be able to drive over there, but he drove
over there too fast.
ALDA (NARRATION) While Jessica had the bad luck to face
a jack, Sarah's carpet grabber's been having a fairly
easy time. This round her opponent's magnets fail to
get a grip.
SARAH MENDELOWITZ Nice job. I seemed to
have gotten lucky a lot of times. I haven't had to go
against a jack yet. So I think it's a lot of luck, who
I picked. But I'm glad things are working well. And
so far so good. I'm excited that I got this far.
ALDA (NARRATION) Malima and her bulldozer are up again
-- this time against another pendulum grabber.
ALEX SLOCUM She got to winch and hope that she doesn't get
off the beam.
ALDA (NARRATION) But Malima simply goes into reverse,
dragging everything with her.
ALEX SLOCUM Oh! Amazing! Absolutely amazing!
MALIMA WOLF It works pretty well right now. And it
seems to be making it. It hasn't broken yet, so--.
ALDA (NARRATION) Now here's a confrontation we've been
waiting for -- Sarah's carpet grabber against Eric's
magnets and car. Sarah gets a grip -- and yanks so hard
she makes Eric's magnets lose theirs, leaving them dangling
helplessly. Now Eric's only hope is his car. But Sarah
hangs on -- and Eric's streak is over.
ERIC VARADY She deserved to win. That was awesome.
That was my toughest match so far, so, I'm looking good.
I'm really excited.
ALEX SLOCUM 3-2-1-go!
ALDA (NARRATION) This is the first match-up we've seen
between mobile jacks. One jack maneuvers into position
more quickly than the other…
ALEX SLOCUM He may have
it. Don't get greedy.
ALDA (NARRATION) The faster jack is driven by Alex Jacobson.
Jack's that work well, like Alex's, are beginning to
look unbeatable. Here's another face-off that promises
to be fun -- Will's drive-away car against Malima's
WILL LARK As long as the front part stays on its hooks,
it should be fine.
MALIMA WOLF I think I can do it. I don't know. Who
knows, we'll see.
ALDA (NARRATION) Malima's bulldozer attacks -- but it's
stopped short by Will's lock-on clamp. Will's heavyweight
car does its thing -- and its extra leverage keeps Malima's
bulldozer hanging high.
ALEX SLOCUM That was good. Excellent!
WILL LARK Oh man!
ALDA (NARRATION) Only a few machines now remain in the
running. One is the mobile jack built by Will DelHagen.
Alex Jacobson has the other almost identical jack --
here literally ripping a carpet grabber out of the contest.
Kateri Garcia's bulldozer has been steadily plowing
its way through the opposition. It does it again. But
as time is about to expire… With both machines off the
beam, it ends up a tie.
KATERI The controls are really
touchy and this thing likes to take off and I shouldn't
have touched it, I should've left it alone.
ALDA (NARRATION) So there's a rerun. This time Kateri's
bulldozer fails to dislodge her opponent … whose carpet
grabber clings on
ALEX SLOCUM Look at the climb on that!
Amazing angle! There she goes, up up up and away!
ALDA (NARRATION) But Kateri's heroic climb isn't enough
to dislodge the carpet grabber.
ALEX SLOCUM I've never
seen, literally in seven years of teaching, a student
design a machine set to go up a 45 degree angle almost.
ALDA (NARRATION) Will Lark's car is still going strong
-- this time pulling the telescoping arm as far as it
will go. With this win, he's in the semifinals.
WILL LARK Whoa! I've got to take a breather for a second.
ALDA (NARRATION) Sarah's luck, meanwhile, looks to have
run out, as she finally confronts Will DelHagen's all-powerful
SARAH MENDELOWITZ I did a lot better than I thought
I was gonna do. I came up against a really tough opponent.
I don't know if there was much I could do, so I did
my best. Having it done on time and having the opportunity
to practice really helped a lot. I think that was a
big part of how well I did.
ALDA (NARRATION) But then -- an unexpected reprieve
from the judges.
SARAH MENDELOWITZ So now I guess I'm
rerunning since my control system stopped working again.
So they're gonna let me rerun.
ALDA (NARRATION) Remember Jessica Baker's plan to try
to pull up the carpet before the mobile jack could get
into position? It looks like Will DelHagen's jack has
finally met its match -- until Sarah give one last tweak
on the controls. She tries to recover -- but it's too
SARAH MENDELOWITZ I got too greedy I think. I
didn't want him to get underneath and I popped off.
I think if I didn't get so greedy I might have been
able to beat him, but it was really close. It was good.
ALDA (NARRATION) The first semifinal. And now it's Will
Lark's turn to face Will DelHagen's jack. Almost before
the car has even jumped off the beam, the jack is hoisting
it up. All Will DelHagen has to do is stand and watch
as Will Lark's car desperately tries to hook around
the jack and yank it away.
WILL LARK Winch it, winch
ALDA (NARRATION) For Will Lark, it's the end of a great
WILL LARK The only way to get him was to mess him
ALDA (NARRATION) The second semifinal. It's Alex Jacobson's
mobile jack against a simple extender that has quietly
made it through round after round. For a moment it looks
like Alex has gotten trapped by the corner. But then…
So for the finals, it's mobile jack against mobile jack.
ALEX JACOBSON A lot of things I wanted to get done I
didn't get done, but everything I needed I guess I finished,
ALDA (NARRATION) We tracked Alex down behind the scenes…
ALEX JACOBSON I gotta go.
ALDA (NARRATION) Where, it turned out, he'd been conspiring
with Will. Good friends, who've been comparing notes
ever since the class began, Will and Alex now plan a
WILL DELHAGEN Alex, come on!
ALEX SLOCUM Up and away…
ALDA (NARRATION) Carefully choreographed, the two robots
jack the whole apparatus an inch off the ground -- with
the beam dead level. The result is a tie…
ALDA (NARRATION) … or in MIT-speak, a double win.
ALEX SLOCUM This has never, never happened before. And I
so glad it did, because we like to be different. CROWD
Double win! Double win!