Nine finalist teams of engineering students took to the track for the ultimate robot showdown as the highly anticipated annual TUKS Robot Race Day took place recently after being postponed from 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Now in its eighth year, the event coordinated by the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology has grown in leaps and bounds, with more students getting involved and showcasing their innovation, programming and engineering skills. This year saw more than 85 teams register to compete for the title, with preliminary rounds taking place online.
Students had to work remotely due to the ongoing pandemic and as such, paper tracks were designed so that they could be printed out on A4 pages and pasted together to allow the race to be attempted at home. They then had to upload a video of their MARV (microcontroller-based autonomous robotic vehicle) navigating the home track and these video submissions served as the initial rounds of the race.
Professor Tania Hanekom, function head for Undergraduate Studies at the University of Pretoria, said that providing world-class education to its students is what it strives for across all departments and the Robot Race Day is just one of the ways education is enhanced. “Our annual Robot Race Day provides a platform to stimulate curiosity and creativity, which is crucial for the innovation and entrepreneurship that a career in engineering demands. The project guides aspiring engineers through a carefully planned process to develop a fundamental set of engineering skills which include hardware and software design skills, systems integration skills, the ability to work and function in a team, time management skills, perseverance and the good old indispensable ‘engineering gut feeling’ which comes only with experience in the execution of engineering projects,” she said.
Professor Hanekom also added that the educational objectives of the Robot Race Day were strongly supported by the university’s partnerships with industry, which provide the necessary resources to maintain this flagship event. “On behalf of the students and the engineering faculty, I would like to thank RS Components South Africa for assisting us with the various components, batteries and support over the years. We look forward to future engagements with RS,” she added.
The TUKS Robot Race Day offers students the opportunity to put theory into practice. Students are required to build autonomous robotic vehicles with a sensor system able to detect specific colours on the multi-coloured track – which is developed as part of their analog electronics module. The Race Day also gives them a platform to work as a team and to demonstrate innovation and technical skills in developing these robots.
The 2021 edition’s winners – Eben Benade, Dylan Bailie, Berno Myburg and Jean Pierre De La Rey – were elated after their robot raced in the grand final with a winning time of 9,8 seconds. De La Rey, a third-year student, said he was grateful to all the sponsors for their continued support of the TUKS Robot Race Day. “The right resources are the absolute key to any successful project. I would personally like to extend a huge thank you to RS Components SA for providing some of the components we needed to complete our robot,” he said.
Wesley Hood, education specialist for RS Components SA, said that assisting in the development of the next generation of creators, innovators and engineers is high on the company’s agenda. “RS Components’ continued involvement in this project is in line with the company’s education vision of supporting both professional and future engineers by giving them access to the components and tools they require to excel. This is further echoed in our DesignSpark platform which is a free-to-join online technical community for engineers, innovators and tinkerers of all ages from around the world, with more than a million members who can be of assistance to students and engineers working on real-world applications. I urge all students to register on the site and be a part of this global community. I would also like to commend Professor Hanekom and her team for their tremendous efforts to make the Robot Race Day an annual success,” he said.
View a short video of the event here: https://youtu.be/G2tOCS228U4
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