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Robot Grand Prix 2012 is a resounding success

8 June 2012

Friday June 1st 2012 saw the inaugural Robot Grand Prix, an event just as zany as it sounds, held by UCL’s Department of Computer Science and sponsored by Morgan Stanley.

The UCL Department of Computer Science's inaugural Robot Grand Prix

The race was the culmination of a ten-week module in which first-year undergraduates learn to program a robot and move it successfully around a course.

The students had not seen the track layout until the morning of the race, at which point they had to battle the clocks to program their robots to understand the twists and turns of the course. With 24 teams of two or three students, this was a buzzing event in which the tension was palpable and the competition intense.

Professor Mark Handley, who conceptualised the Program a Robot module with help from Dr Dean Mohamedally and some of his PhD students, designed the robots and had them manufactured in-house with help from the department’s technicians. Given the somewhat violent bumps the robots were subjected to while the students got to grips with programming, it is fortunate that they were built with robustness in mind.

But while the robots themselves were relatively basic in structure, the task was not. Dr Graham Roberts, who also worked on the project, said: “This wasn’t simply a case of us telling the students to make the robot move forward. Using a low-level interface, the students had to specify how much power the robots would use in wheel rotation, using C programming language to generate a set of instructions that were transmitted wirelessly from a laptop or netbook to the android phones on top of each robot. It was quite a challenge because we simply pointed them towards the guidance material and let them work the rest out for themselves.”

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At around 4pm, after hours of meticulously timed laps and many cries of "penalty!", the winning duo was announced: it was Michael Boon and Richard Davis. Michael said: “I’ve really enjoyed this module; it’s been good fun and we’ve learned a lot. Working with a partner has been a useful experience because we’ll all be working in teams when we get jobs.”

Richard added, “It feels great to win but I think it was mainly down to luck: everyone did really well and there was a lot of tough competition. Our plans now are to go and celebrate our win by chilling out in the park and then enjoy our summer!”

Images: Harriet Gaunt
Video: Graham Roberts

Page last modified on 07 jun 12 16:38

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