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Virginia Tech/UTS collaborate in international robotics competition

2 February 2017

Team VICTOR testing on site at Virginia Tech. Pic supplied

Team VICTOR testing on site at Virginia Tech. Pic supplied

UTS has been invited to collaborate with Virginia Tech on its entry for the annual Mohamed Bin Zayed International Robotics MBZIRC 2017 Grand Challenge. MBZIRC is a prestigious bi-annual international robotics competition ‘intended to demonstrate state of the art robotics in terms of scientific and technological accomplishments, and to inspire the future of robotics’, with a $5 million prize pool.

Team VICTOR, representing Virginia Tech (VT), is rising to the Grand Challenge – that is, attempting each of the three individual challenges that make up the competition:

  • Challenge 1: An Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) should locate, track and land on a moving vehicle
  • Challenge 2: An Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) should locate and reach a panel and physically operate a valve system on the panel
  • Challenge 3: A team of UAVs should collaborate to search, locate, track, pick and place a set of static and moving objects

27 teams were shortlisted from 143 applications, but only 14 will attempt all three challenges.

UTS PhD student Janindu Arukgoda is on Team VICTOR, and on-site at VT to contribute UTS expertise.  Here he describes his recent professional and personal experiences:

At UTS I study in the Centre for Autonomous Systems (CAS) under Prof Gamini Dissanayake who, along with Dr. Ravindra Ranasinghe and Dr Lakshitha Dantanarayana, collaborates with the VT team remotely. At VT, I am a visiting scholar in the Computational Multiphysics Systems Lab (CMS Lab – one of just two world-wide).

The MBZIRC team here consists of two advisers, Prof Tomonari Furukawa and Prof Brian Lattimer, with about 15 graduate students. Except for me, all are VT graduate students, both local and international, coming from countries including China, India, Pakistan and Vietnam. 

Since challenges 1 and 3 are both based on UAVs, one team of students works on these, and I’m part of that team as my UTS research focus is on UAVs. There is a separate team for challenge 2, and both teams collaborate for the Grand Challenge. Many skills are required to complete this Challenge, with team members from backgrounds including Mechanical Engineering, Aerospace Engineering, Computer Science and Electronics Engineering. Developing a UAV or a UGV that can perform the required tasks needs all of our expertise. For example, in Challenges 1 and 3, the UAVs were designed and developed by two students also capable of piloting them. Then we have a couple of students with expertise in computer science and software development, and they mostly work on the software integration and managing the simulation environment. I majored in Computer Science and Engineering during my Bachelors so I mostly contribute to the software suite. However, we all work as a team and, while one person might be the expert on a specific area, we all share the workload and the responsibility. 

VT has taken part in robotics competitions like this before including the 2015 DARPA Robotics Challenge, when Dr Dantanarayana - who was then a graduate student at UTS - worked with the VT team onsite.

Life here in Blacksburg is very different to Sydney - it is much much quieter and relaxed, far away from major cities and the campus itself is so big -  2600 acres 11 km2  -  you even need to take a bus  from one building to another!  (It also means there is plenty of physical space for testing our drones!) Almost as soon as I arrived in November, snow began and the temperature has been as low as -12°C, which I don't think will ever be experienced in Sydney!

I have made friends at the CMS Lab and we socialise regularly, celebrating thesis defences and graduations and investigating the great hiking and biking trails around here. Thanksgiving was spent with some Chinese students with a ‘traditional’ Chinese hot-pot dinner, and at New Year I went to New York by bus (13-hour ride) with an Indian student I met here. It was way too crowded to get even close to Times Square on New Year's Eve but we saw some beautiful fireworks at midnight from Brooklyn Bridge.

I am making plans to do lots of other things before I leave for Abu Dhabi where the competition takes place from 16 - 18 March.  

Best regards, Janindu 

The First Progress Report video outlining Team VICTOR’s response can be seen here and we look forward to posting the next update and hearing again from Janindu soon

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