Deterministic Design: Disruptive Technologies


When a company finds a fundamental new way of solving a problem, competitors often slap their foreheads and say "duh!" because physics is indeed elegant and essentially simple. No cheese is given to the team that whines that the winner cheated by taking advantage of a new (or old!) design or by using new materials or technologies. Despite the existence of disruptive technologies, they rarely happen so fast that they totally dominate the marketplace. Countermeasures thus can include maintaining market share by increased quality and customer service and by lowering prices and tightening margins. Time to- market with a robust working product is often the most critical issue, but this does not mean that you can avoid change! 


In a robot design contest, some say that there should be no potential winner-take-all solution because then one person might discover it and then dominate and make other students feel bad. On the other hand, perhaps it is best to have a design contest where there is potentially a winner takes all strategy, but it requires a machine to be extremely clever and well engineered. Furthermore, finishing early and then practicing with your machine has been proven time and again to be the most "disruptive technology" as far as your competition is concerned. When you finish early, you not only have a chance to find and fix problems, you have a chance to observe others and devise blocking modules that you can add to overcome others' disruptive technologies! Consider past 2.007 students and their machines: 


The 1995 contest "Pebble Beach" placed ping pong balls on platters in the midst of a field of plastic pellets. Machine after machine wallowed in the pellets. Rachel Cunningham used to help her dad handcraft precision rifles for Olympic shooters, and she created a very elegant, simple, and precise projectile shooter that consistently scored a dozen balls. She made it to the semifinals and then her rubber band broke and her machine misfired. Her massively disruptive technology merely needed a maintenance schedule (she should have replaced the rubber band each round). Hyoseok Yang went on to win with a well-made robust design with which he had practiced driving many times. 


Sami Busch and several others in the 1996 contest "Niagara Balls" discovered the disruptive technology of extending a scoop to catch and direct the balls as they flowed over the waterfall. In the final round, his opponent from Harvard deployed what he thought would be the winning disruptive technology: a scoop that would bring the balls to his scoring bin, AND an arm to extend over the opponent's scoring bin. Sami was watching carefully during the night's competition and he took advantage of the fact that when the contest started, it took about 2 seconds for the balls to come cascading over the edge: Harvard immediately deployed, and Sami deployed ½ second later. Sami's machine pushed the Harvard scoop and blocking arm out of the way and Sami captured every single ball to win (much to the relief of the MIT crowd)! 

S.B. 和其他学生在1996年的比赛中发现了颠覆性技术,在小球通过瀑布时,用勺子抓住小球。在决赛中,来自哈佛的对手试图跨过对手的得分框,利用勺子来帮助自己得分。当晚比赛,S很认真的观察场上局势。当比赛一开始,哈佛对手马上展开攻势,当时S在迟疑了0.5s后也展开了攻势。最后S利用机器推开了哈佛对手的勺子和阻碍,抓住了所有的小球赢得了比赛。(MIT的书呆子们,这才松了口气。哈佛和MIT死对头,大家懂得)

Tim Zue and a handful of others in the 1997 contest "Pass the Puck" discovered the disruptive technology of a raised platform that would enable their bulldozeresque machines to launch themselves across the barrier and pin their opponent thus scoring a few points and preventing their opponent from scoring. But what happened when two such raised bulldozers faced each other? Tim, however, had finished early and recognized the problem and identified the fundamental physics: traction. His disruptive technology was sandpaper applied to the top of his platform so his bulldozer won every time against those trying to drive off of simple aluminum surface platforms! 


Colin Bulthap in the 1998 contest "Ballcano" thought to score modestly and then use a fast mobile Botherbot to bother and confound competitors. His machine scored using a simple wall crawler to drag a fabric tube from his scoring bin to scoop balls as they flowed out of the Ballcano. This enclosed design also prevented other Botherbots from confoundifying him! David Arguellis and a handful of other students consistently were able to place 10 pucks in the top scoring hole in the 1999 contest "MechEverest". 


Dave had finished early and realized he had the time and the ability to make a Cage module to collect the hockey pucks at the base of MechEverest as his machine started up the slope, and then the pucks fell through the lower scoring hole as they were dragged across it. This put his score over the top. 


Kevin Lang in 2000's "Sojourner This" took Botherbots to new heights with a Botherbot that moved to the opponent's scoring bin and dropped itself in so its welding rod top totally closed off the scoring zone. Kevin’s bulldozerbot then proceeded to push balls into his own scoring zone! 


For every scoring strategy you have, envision the simplest concept possible to score and to block it, just in case your opponent thought of the same strategy







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