Reimagining an iconic design class

For the previous 50 years, mechanical engineering college students at MIT have convened on campus for a boisterous robotic competitors. Because the Seventies, when the late Professor Emeritus Woodie Flowers first challenged college students to construct a machine utilizing a “package of junk,” college students at school 2.007 (Design and Manufacturing I) have designed and constructed their very own robots to compete within the class’s remaining robotic competitors. For a lot of college students, the category and competitors are a driving issue of their resolution to enroll in MIT.

“Every year, college students inform us that they got here to MIT particularly to take 2.007 and take part within the mayhem of making these robots and doing this enjoyable competitors,” says Amos Winter, affiliate professor of mechanical engineering and a pair of.007 co-lead teacher.

This was the case for Julianna Rodriguez, a rising senior finding out mechanical engineering. “For me, 2.007 was the category I’ve been most trying ahead to at MIT. It serves as a bridge between the technical lessons I’ve taken and truly with the ability to construct one thing tangible,” says Rodriguez.

As with many hands-on lessons, in March 2020 the school and instructing workers of two.007 needed to scrap plans for in-person components, together with the enduring remaining robotic competitors. Whereas the staff rapidly pivoted to a model of the category centered on computer-aided design (CAD) and evaluation, many, together with Winter, had been left heartbroken that college students weren’t in a position to construct and compete with their robotic as they’d hoped.

“I actually felt that college students misplaced out on that bodily connection to mechanical engineering that comes from hands-on work. They didn’t study all these vital classes of constructing one thing in the true world, having it fail, then determining the way to repair it,” says Winter.

Winter and a pair of.007 co-lead teacher, Sangbae Kim, professor of mechanical engineering, instantly began envisioning what 2.007 may appear like in spring 2021.

“As an educator, it was such an amazing studying alternative. The challenges pressured us to assume in a different way and be extra artistic,” provides Kim.

Figuring out there could be many challenges related to giving college students the hands-on, confidence-building expertise 2.007 often supplies, Winter led an effort to re-imagine the category and account for any eventuality. He secured assets from MIT’s Division of Mechanical Engineering, together with hiring Antoni Soledad ’21, who participated within the Undergraduate Analysis Alternative Program (UROP) below Winter’s steerage. Winter took the autumn semester off from instructing so he might deal with creating a wholly new 2.007 curriculum that maintained the category’s core tenets, together with how the staff might pull off a dwell, head-to-head, distant robotic competitors.

A 130-pound supply

The staff developed a listing of “necessities” when brainstorming the way to re-envision 2.007. At the start was retaining the confidence-building factor of scholars arising with their very own design and constructing it with their very own two fingers, whereas on the identical time studying core mechanical engineering ideas.

“It was essential for this yr’s class for us to offer all of the magic and deep engineering studying that comes from our regular hands-on expertise, however do it in a distant atmosphere,” provides Winter.

Central to all of the instructing workers’s objectives was fairness. With some college students possible taking part totally remotely, the instructing staff needed to provide you with options that had been honest to everybody, whether or not they lived in a dorm, residence, or throughout the nation of their household’s house.

The staff’s resolution was to ship a package of supplies to all 130 college students within the class. The primary technology of the package was developed final summer season by Soledad. By fall, Winter and Soledad had been joined by instructing assistant Georgia Van de Zande and 4 different UROPs to proceed iterating the package.

“As a result of the scholars couldn’t come to the Pappalardo lab, we determined to ship the Pappalardo lab to them,” says Van de Zande.

MIT’s first-ever digital robotic competitors

The staff put quite a lot of thought into the scale, weight, and composition of those “Pappalardo-in-a-Field” kits. The consequence was a 130-pound package crammed with instruments and supplies college students might use to construct their very own robots from house all through the semester. There was sufficient selection within the supplies to make sure every scholar might provide you with their very own artistic and distinctive design.

“It’s actually thrilling that these college students are beginning their mechanical engineering journey with a literal toolbox filled with instruments they’ll use all through their careers,” provides Van de Zande.

The staff additionally recognized a becoming theme for this yr’s competitors: “Dwelling Alone: Collectively.” The theme was a nod to the basic vacation film and the truth that college students could be designing, constructing, and competing primarily from their houses all through the semester. 

A hybrid semester

With the kits delivered to college students, Winter, Kim, and their staff centered on the way to truly train college students core design and manufacturing ideas, no matter the place they had been positioned.

All formal lab workouts had been accomplished nearly. College students would usually meet one-on-one with instructors and lab workers by way of Zoom. This distant setup truly elevated the quantity of particular person consideration every scholar obtained from workers.  

“In so many cases, digital has been higher than our regular format,” says Winter. “We’ve actually significant one-on-one conferences with the scholars throughout our lab sections, as a result of there is no distractions like there could be within the bodily lab.”

The category additionally featured an optionally available in-person factor open to college students who had entry to campus. These college students would go to the Pappalardo lab in small teams to work together with lab workers. The Pappalardo store workers arrange socially distanced workstations the place college students might safely work within the lab and get workers suggestions. These workstations featured the very same instruments and supplies each scholar had at house. The workers made positive they had been simply as accessible by way of Zoom to the scholars who couldn’t come to campus.

Affiliate Professor Amos Winter introduces “Dwelling Alone: Collectively,” the all-remote model of two.007 for spring 2021.

One new characteristic of this yr’s class was “Invoice’s Construct Demos” — a collection of movies spearheaded by Invoice Cormier, undertaking technician within the Pappalardo lab, and produced by the store workers. These movies demonstrated widespread components in robotic design and the nuances at play in fabrication and meeting. The demos proved to be essential in deepening college students’ understanding of mechanism design; this was mirrored within the high quality and reliability of the robots they produced for the ultimate competitors.

The person consideration and dedication the two.007 instructing staff confirmed all through the semester had a tangible impression on college students.

“In my trustworthy opinion, the two.007 workers has been one of the crucial nurturing and understanding school that I’ve ever encountered,” says Megan Ngo, a rising junior finding out mechanical engineering. “I’ve discovered a lot: the physics behind making a component, the way to begin a undertaking from begin to end and simply how cool mechanical engineering might be in the true world.”

MIT’s first-ever digital robotic competitors

College students put the talents they discovered all through the semester to the take a look at. Armed with their distinctive robotic design, their very own sport board, and a digicam, college students had been able to take part within the first recognized dwell, head-to-head, distant bodily robotic competitors.

The settings for the competitors various. Ben Owen Block and his roommate who additionally took the category organized the format of their dorm room across the competitors. Senior Julianna Rodriguez constructed her robotic from an residence in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. John Malloy began the semester in Colorado earlier than transferring house to Florida, the place he constructed his robotic in his childhood bed room.

Dressed as “Dwelling Alone” villains Harry and Marv, Winter and Kim emceed the competitors as college students’ robots went head-to-head in a collection of elimination rounds. Whereas every robotic competed from a unique location, the 2 opponents per spherical ran on the identical time with their video feeds blended right into a dwell webcast. Robots carried out duties on a sport board, modeled after the booby-trapped McCallister home from the film. The robotic that earned essentially the most factors would survive onto the subsequent spherical.

Ultimately, Jordan Ambrosio’s robotic emerged because the champion. However in line with Winter, everybody was a winner this yr.

“To return out of this semester, see what the scholars completed, and know that the tutorial expertise of the category has been retained, it feels triumphant,” says Winter.

For Kim, a key enchancment this yr was the straightforward entry college students needed to their robots. Slightly than solely work on their robots within the lab, college students had been in a position to tinker with their robots of their spare time.

“We discovered that college students might handle their time significantly better after they had their instruments and supplies proper of their rooms,” says Kim.

Whereas the 2022 robotic competitors will hopefully be again within the Johnson Ice Rink, the two.007 instructing staff plans on incorporating lots of the optimistic modifications made in response to the pandemic to future semesters.

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