Ideal and Real Systems: A Study of Notions of Control in Undergraduates Who Design Robots

Aug. 1, 1994


Fred Martin


In the MIT LEGO Robot Design Competition, students build robots that interact with their environment—the contest playing field, the game objects, and the opponent robot or robots—in particular ways. The robots thus become part of a complex system of interactions that define their existence. In this paper I explore the biases that students bring to the task of designing their robots. Of particular interest is students' recurring inclination to build robots that will perform properly only under ideal conditions. Students repeatedly build robots that are not well-equipped to deal with the exigencies of the real world, but rather with the specifications of an idealized, abstracted world—a world that the robot designers would like to believe is a close representation of reality, but is not. This result points to limitations in the set of ideas about technological systems and methods that comprise the core of the engineering curriculum. What surprises many participants is that these ideas do not map well to the challenge of designing a robot to play in one of our contests.

Related Content