It's Paradise, Melrose-Style

RoboPuck

This was more than just a hockey tournament.

There wasn't the stickhandling of Peter Ciavaglia or the skating ability of Lane MacDonald '89. And one couldn't even see any goalie pads like the kind you'd find on Allain Roy.

No, this was more, or maybe it was less. Whatever, it was paradise, Kevan Melrose-style, where a strong bodycheck and control of the puck were all you needed to win.

Welcome to the fourth annual RoboPuck Tournament, MIT's version of the Beanpot, where 27 different robots compete in a double elimination tournament for the right to be called RoboPuck Champion of the World.

And the competition was fierce. Bertha versus Psycho. Masher versue Robo-Duck. Claws versus Lego-zilla. Death Star versus Blind.

In a first-round game, Blind managed to pin the puck against the wall, but Bertha zoomed in, pinned Blind's extended arm and the puck, and snuck a little arm in for the win.

And in exhibition action, Wonderdog, the brainchild of one of the organizers, Randy Sargent, cross-checked Wayne off its wheels to win the round.

But in the end, persistence and an agressive strategy paid off, as The Gymbol pulled out a two-game sweep over Psycho in the final round to carry off the trophy.

"Speed, be quick and hold on to the puck when you get it," said Mike Perrott, one of the four people who designed the winning robot.

Held in front of an overflow crowd of about 500 people in Building 26 at MIT, the fourth annual RoboPuck tournament was revolutionary--it was the first time that teams were competing without being tethered to computers. The controlling microprocessor chips were located on the robots, which were constructed out of Lego kits, gears, motors and sensors.

In each round, three participants entered a circular "rink," five feet in diameter, bordered by plexiglass with a puck in the middle. The goal for each robot was to be the last to touch the puck when the bell went off after 60 seconds.

The robots could find the location of the puck by sensing an infrared light emitted by it, except of course when the organizers forgot to "turn the puck on." This occurred in the first round.

Okay, so it makes no sense, but the best man...er...robot usually won. The most effective strategy was to get to the puck first and pin it against the boards, while opponents fruitlessly tried to check the winning robot off the puck and get a claw on it.

But the different strategies showed great conceptual depth. There was Shotgun, which propelled a Lego section at the puck as soon as it sensed it, managing to latch on to the prize while its other half found the nearest opponent and forechecked it into the boards. Talk about a goon.

How about Bertha, which managed to advance all the way to the semifinals with the following strategy--rush straight at the puck, miss it completely, bounce off the far wall and latch on to its goal on the second go-around. Bertha stole the puck from The Gymbol with 10 seconds remaining in the semifinals, but The Gymbol snagged the victory as the buzzer went off.