Meet The Australian Robotics Team Competing For World’s Richest Prize

Libby Jane Charleston
on 14 March 2017

The only Australian team to qualify for the US$5 million Mohamed Bin Zayed International Robotics Competition features five robots and 10 engineers from Sydney’s University of New South Wales.

The UNSW line-up consists of one unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) and four autonomous hexacopter drones – Flippy, Floppy, Flappy and Fally – developed by the students, aged 20 to 26, who include Stephanie McArthur, now at Google Waymo, working on self-driving car technology.

Project leader Stanley Lam told Women Love Tech the UNSW robot drones will be put to the test by identifying objects from the air.“Our robot drones will also land on moving vehicles to pick up those objects, then deliver them to a target site. There’s also a ground vehicle component, where the UGV has to drive to a panel in a location, identify and pick up a certain size spanner, grip it, and use it to turn a valve stem,” said Lam.

“All of this happens without human intervention, to demonstrate dexterity and mobility of an autonomous mobile platform.”

Mark Whitty, lead researcher of the UNSW team, said the focus of the competition is disaster response.

“It’s to push robotics with an ambitious and technologically demanding set of challenges. Take the Fukushima disaster, when the Japanese reactor went into meltdown. The robots they tried to place in there were unable to do things like walk up a set of stairs, unscrew nuts and bolts – basically, incapable of doing anything useful,” Whitty said.

The Mohamed Bin Zayed International Robotics Competition is being held in Abu Dhabi 16-18 March. Of the 143 teams from 35 countries which entered the challenge, only 25 from 12 countries passed the qualifying trials.

Other teams to make it include the world’s elite universities and research centres: Carnegie Mellon University (USA), ETH Zurich (Switzerland), University of Tokyo and Imperial College London (UK). Teams will be coming from Spain, China, USA, UK, Switzerland, Japan, Korea, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Saudi Arabia and Poland.

The competition will be staged at the Yas Marina Circuit on Yas Island, off the coast of Abu Dhabi, home to the annual Formula 1 Grand Prix.

“International competitions like this often play a key role in advancing knowledge. The development of robotics for search and rescue and disaster response will be accelerated by requiring research into real-life applications like these,” said Mark Hoffman, UNSW Dean of Engineering.

“Robotics and artificial intelligence is a field in which Australians are recognised as leading players.”

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