Photo of woman at controls of her robot, with plastic human figure sliding down a cable.

First-place finisher Ali Edwards, a sophomore in mechanical engineering, scores the game-winning points by getting the plastic figure of Dr. Emmett Brown to slide down a cable. Prof. Amos Winter, dressed as Dr. Brown, applauds. (Photo: Tony Pulsone)

As MIT’s spring semester wraps up, we always look forward to the latest installment in this classic MIT event.  Congratulations to Allison and all the participants!

Robots compete in “Hack to the Future”
Final competition in MIT’s course 2.007 pays tribute to classic time-travel movie.
David L. Chandler | MIT News Office | May 8, 2015

The future, as defined in the first sequel to 1985’s classic time-travel saga “Back to the Future,” is this year: 2015.

So, appropriately enough, that movie was selected as the theme for this year’s version of the annual competition that marks the end of the MIT mechanical engineering course 2.007 (Design and Manufacturing). The popular head-to-head competition between student-built robots is an MIT tradition that goes back even farther than the three-decade old film — all the way back to 1970.

Last evening’s 2.007 finals were open to the public, and attracted hundreds of cheering spectators of all ages. The competition, as always, featured many a suspenseful moment as students competed side by side in controlling the robots they had spent a semester designing, building, and testing. Students used a wide variety of clever approaches to score points on a complex field built in the shape of a DeLorean car and clock tower — both of which figured prominently in the 1985 movie.

But, as is often the case in 2.007 competitions, while some unusual designs scored astonishingly high point totals, it was ultimately a relatively slow — but efficient and reliable — design that made its way through the single-elimination tournament to emerge as the winner.

That robot, called “Rafiki,” was the design of Allison Edwards, a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering. While other robots scored much higher point totals in certain matchups, none produced such consistent performance.

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Learn more about how students design and build these robots with OCW’s version of 2.007 Design and Manufacturing I from the Spring 2009 term.  That year, students created robots to clean up a model environment.  The OCW site includes lecture notes, recitation notes, assignments and exams with solutions, and lots more about the robot project and the final competition.