Design Challenge 1

New SDM students create LEGO robots that simulate Mars rovers

By Monica Nakamine
January 18, 2002

On January 12, 2002, the incoming System and Design Management (SDM) students finished their first week on-campus by showing off their models at the annual Design Challenge that the current class organizes for the newly matriculated. These models were made of various LEGO pieces, but their functionality simulated that of Mars rover vehicles, picking up rocks and sensing moisture.

SDM is a graduate-level program that grants master’s degrees in engineering as well as in management. Though primarily a distance-learning program, SDM also offers students the option of an on-campus education. Either way, all students start in January and are required to spend the entire month together at MIT. The Design Challenge is one among many activities that the group participates in throughout the January Session.

Under the guise of a friendly competition, this event served a greater purpose – to encourage these new students to get to know and interact with faculty, staff, and, most importantly, their fellow classmates.

“The Design Challenge was a great opportunity to get to know the other people in the SDM program,” said Dan Rinkevich, SDM ’02. “We really got to know each other’s strengths and learned to rely on each other. The Design Challenge was a great display of all the fantastic ideas that everyone developed.”

Each of the five teams won an award, categories of which included: the Hollywood Award for incorporating a certain sense of glamour to their robot, the Murphy Award as in Murphy’s Law – “nothing is as easy as it looks,” the Surprise Award for the robot that astonished everyone, and the Most Fun Award for having a fun attitude which was apparent in the robot that they designed.

The Overall Award winner was Team 1 – Candy Chatawanich, F-Series Body Structures Engineer at Ford; Harris Lieber, Traction Systems Engineer also at Ford; Jacob Pretorius, Senior Engineer at Mide Technology Corporation; Tom Seitz, Senior Process Fellow at Northrop Grumman; James Weisheit, Project Engineer/IPT Leader at Pratt & Whitney; and Ignacio Grossi, Project Manager at INVAP S.E. (a technology development company in Argentina).

“Fortunately, our robot was able to accomplish some of the mission, so we won the Overall prize,” said Weisheit. “The event really does a good job at setting the stage for our course work. The team environment is tough with those you do not know immediately. Our team hit its stride midweek, but towards the end, with the time constraints, the team was certainly challenged.”

Each of the teams was given only five nights to work on their robots. During the day, they would be at an SDM-related function. A few of the students didn’t even go home the night before the challenge. But after the event was over, many admitted that they learned a great deal, not only about the other students, but about themselves as well.

“We learned a lot about ourselves as individuals, and about what we, as a team, were capable of,” said Rinkevich. “My biggest learning was what a wonderful place MIT is. I’ve always heard about the fantastic things that are going on at MIT, but until you see it first hand, you can’t really fathom it. Amazing things are happening in every corner; amazing people are everywhere.”