Robots Rule

04 October 2016

We speak to the UTM ROBOCON Team who beat out teams from Japan and China to emerge champions at ABU ROBOCON 2016.

The Malaysia Boleh! spirit goes beyond the showing of our athletes at the Rio Olympics and Paralympics. Recently, a group of local varsity students have become champions on the international stage - The ROBOCON Team from Universiti Technologi Malaysia (UTM) was the grand prize winner at the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union’s (ABU) ROBOCON 2016 held in Bangkok in August.

ROBOCON, short for Robotic Contest, was founded in 2002 and organised by ABU, a collection of over 20 countries from the Asia Pacific Region. The participants are undergraduate students from the region. For the competition annually, each team is required to build two robots to complete a task within a set period of time. The UTM ROBOCON Team was also founded in 2002 and have been joining the ABU ROBOCON since its inauguration.

“Our team members are first-year and second-year undergraduate students from various courses who are robotics enthusiasts. The team is separated into three departments - Mechanism, Electronics and Programming which are given specific tasks to build a set of performing robots,” says UTM ROBOCON Team leader Chong Wee Khang, a third-year undergraduate majoring in electronics engineering.

The current team consists of 39 members under instructor Dr. Mohd Ridzuan Ahmad, senior lecturer from the department of Mechatronics and Robotics, Faculty of Electrical Engineering.

Wee Khang explains that they started preparing for the contest once the competition theme was announced. The theme, “Clean Energy Recharging the World”, was designed to create the awareness of efficient energy consumption and clean and renewable energy utilisation. Each team has to build two robots: an Eco Robot and a Hybrid Robot.

After intense brainstorming, discussion and research, the team came up with some prototypes based on the ideas, before proceeding with further testing and improvement.

“Our robots had undergone countless of prototyping, fabrication, testing, improvement and tuning. Once the final robots were done, we went for robot training to further test the robots’ performance, as well as training robot operators. The processes went on day and night and we sometimes had to stay up for 24 hours to catch up with the task deadline.”

Wee Khang says the team gained invaluable experiences at the competition in Bangkok.

“Once we entered the contest venue, members carried out their own task given, such as game field testing, robot reinstallation, contest video recording, game analysis and so on,” recalls Wee Khang. Although there were some initial hiccups, instead of being stressed, the team enjoyed themselves and got to know new friends from other countries who shared the same interest in robotics.

Wee Khang discloses that they did not expect to win at first after observing the robot performances from other teams such as China and Japan. He believes a reason why they won was because their robots had maintained stable performances throughout the game until the final match. Reaction and decision-making of operators during the game were other important factors.

“Winning this game was the most treasured moment in UTM ROBOCON Team history. We were excited, overjoyed and relieved that our efforts were rewarded,” he says.

Over the years, the UTM ROBOCON Team has bagged some special awards in the ABU competitions like the Toyota Award in 2003, Best Idea Award in 2005, Mabuchi Motor Award in 2007, Best Design Award in 2010, Best Engineering Award in 2012, Panasonic Award in 2013, and Best Design Award in 2015.

Of course, the team aims to retain the championship title by representing Malaysia in ABU Robocon in 2017. “At the same time, we also feel there is a need for the team to contribute to the community, especially among other robotic teams in Malaysia through sharing sessions and workshops. We are currently working on this.”

“Without doubt, robotics is the future trend in technology. We hope that our effort and achievement this time can create an awareness about the importance of robotics and encourage more robotic teams to join the contest. Together we should prepare and train ourselves to help make Malaysia an advanced country in technology,” Wee Khang concludes.

 

By Chow Ee-Tan

Photos courtesy of UTM ROBOCON Team

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