"OK, turn it on," says Hyttinen. "It is," replies Noah Kleinberg, a senior in charge of programming. Nothing. No electricity runs through Tan Tan's wires. It's past 2 a.m., and the robot must be crated up and ready for transport to the New York Regionals by noon tomorrow. The tick of the clock is nearly deafening. The robot has logged many hours on the sample sheets of slippery polymer the team laid out to make a test field in an empty parking lot. Tan Tan wasn't exactly graceful, but it moved when and where it was supposed to, mostly. Now it won't respond to even the most basic of commands: on.
They systematically disconnect and reconnect everything, part by part. Tick, tock, tick, tock. After an hour, Hyttinen steps back and realizes that the sleep-deprived students, when swapping in some new motors, wired them backward. An easy fix.
By 3:30 a.m., all systems are go. Ball-shooting time. The students start feeding Tan Tan moonrocks, rolling them toward it. The robot's lower belts spin so fast they suck in one ball, two balls, three. But nothing comes out of the top. Adam Cohen sums up the prevailing verdict: "Now we're sort of screwed."
During the first two-minute match, it's mayhem. The six boxy robots on the field, which looked so different from one another a minute ago on the sidelines, now have standard-issue goal baskets nearly as big as the robots hitched to their backsides, making them all blur together. Dozens of orange-and-purple and pink-and-purple moonrocks whiz across the tops of the baskets. Most fall to the floor, where they're sucked up through the bottoms of the 'bots. A few land in trailers and score — either 2 points or 15, depending on... well, don't even ask. For a second, you can make out 2Train's robot — distinguishable only by its team number, 395, labeled in red — scooping up moonrocks like mad. Half a dozen are already about to spill over the top. Kleinberg, who is remotely driving the 'bot from behind a Plexiglas wall a few feet way, rams it against an opponent's trailer and dumps in all his moonrocks. It takes a few beats for Kleinberg to hear a delayed cheer from the stands once the scoreboard catches up to game play. 2Train's alliance wins this match, but in the end it's not enough to place in the regional. In two weeks, they'll head to Philadelphia for another stab at a championship spot.single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.