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Strong Defense Seals Victory in Robotic Basketball Competition

After a series of heated three-minute basketball contests, top prize in the sixth annual March Mayhem competition March 7 went to "Johnny V," a ping pong ball-dunking robot with a ball collection mechanism constructed of tightly strung rubber bands. The robot toppled the evening’s best shooter "J.J." in the final match by relying on a strategy of quick shots followed by strong defense.

“That must have been the fastest basket in March Mayhem history,” said senior John Cornwell of Johnny V’s performance in the final game. “Everything came together even though the other team had an arguably better design.”

Cornwell and sophomore teammate Hardy Shen built the winning machine, bringing them $500. Second prize and $200 winner J.J. -- a robot with an impressive ability to rack up points by scooping up dozens of balls -- was designed and built by Willie Du, Jason Greenhut and Michael Spohn.

"J.J. and Johnny V also took $100 prizes for “best fabrication” and “best looking,” respectively. Third place and $100 went to Dan Ryan, Joe Goo and Edison Zhang for their robot, "Better than Burney," a tongue-in-cheek reference to Matt Burney, the winner of last year’s Robo Rice Rumble and last fall’s Turkey Shoot competition.

Six teams competed in this year’s design contest sponsored by the Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science department. Teams were allotted $350 for parts ordered from designated catalogs. A series of double elimination rounds on a court including two “basketball” goals and four corner pockets filled with ping pong balls determined the winners.

“The March Mayhem competition gives students a chance to have fun and get their hands dirty,” said senior research scientist Robert Kielb, one of the event’s organizers.

Kielb noted that he was particularly pleased by the effort put into the design and fabrication of robots by this year’s participants and to the number of fans that turned out for the event. The competition marked the first time the contest wasn’t mandatory for any class, he said.

“I have a test tomorrow, but I had to come out and show my support,” said audience member and senior Chris Morecroft. During the final rounds, the crowd packed in close to the small court or stood on tables to cheer on their favorite machines.

March Mayhem champions Cornwell and Shen said they will use their prize money for the next contest. The pair will go to the regional American Society of Mechanical Engineers design competition in Knoxville, Tenn., at the end of the month. The challenge is to build a "sip and puff" controlled fishing rod, which could be operated orally by someone who is paralyzed from the neck down.