Following the success at last year’s event, the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Ruhuna, for the second consecutive time held XbotiX, one of the major robotics events ever to be hosted by a higher education institute. Organized by the Electrical and Information Engineering Society (EIES) in collaboration with the IEEE Student Branch, University of Ruhuna, IET Ruhuna Chapter, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering Student Society (MMESS) and IMachE Ruhuna Chapter, XbotiX brings together participants representing numerous higher education institutes (both state and private) and schools gathered here at the Faculty to compete. This being the second run of the event, introduced new tasks and challenges to spice up things a bit.
Getting to Galle would usually be a tedious task but thanks to the development of our country, especially with the completion of the Southern Express Highway, we were able to leave Colombo and be in Galle in a mere 1½ hours, a journey that would usually take around 5 hours.
Once in Galle, doing as those from Galle do, our next target was to locate and infiltrate a bus headed to Wakwella. The next hurdle was to locate the faculty which we did thanks to a very friendly lady in the bus. The rest of the evening was smooth sailing as we spent the night in a boarding house that is actually owned by an elderly couple.
For this year’s event, there were 44 university teams and 23 school teams who had registered for the competition. We also had CodeGen, Scnider Electric, Huawei and, of course, your neighborhood friendly ReadMe as sponsors and partners to this event.
A staple beginning to any event is the lighting of the oil lamp. This was carried out by dignitaries and one member each representing the Undergraduates and school students. Dr. P.D. Chandana Perera, Dean, Faculty of Engineering, University of Ruhuna was the Chief Guest for the event.
Ms. Poornika Dharshan, the Secretary of EIES delivered the welcome speech. The next speech was by Dr. P.D. Chandana Perera who spoke about the advancement in robotics, where the field of robotics was usually available only to those pursuing post graduate programmes. Things have certainly changed as students as young as 10 years of age have access to Arduino circuits and the subject of robotics is even being taught in schools.
Chandana Munasinge, President at Ruhuna Engineering Student Chapter of the IESL, Chairman at IEEE Student Branch University of Ruhuna and University Ambassador at SL2College was up next to brief the participants regarding the competition.
Prior to the competition, the robots were checked that they meet the standard specifications. They are also issued a QC (quality control) sticker thus granting them access to take part in the competition.
For the Undergraduate category, the robot has to launch color coded projectiles from a predefined area.
Basically, the robot will start off from a designated square area. From there the robot will move along a black line path to the loading area which is marked by another black square. Once the robot has loaded the projectiles, it has to travel along a path to the shooting area. From there robot will go to the shooting area and pick the color and then shoot. Looks quite a simple task, but looks can be deceiving indeed.
With the rules now set, the crowd breaks up to carry out a few last minute tests and calibrations to make sure that their robots are at peak performance. The challenge looks simple, but in reality it’s not. Remember, each team has to shoot 5 projectiles into a net within 5 minutes. Failure to do so would lead to a deduction of points. Any team that manages to score all 5 projectiles will then be judged on how long they took to do so. The judging criteria looks tough. We were about to witness some robotic warfare in the making.
The projectiles or “balls” are kept in a sealed box meaning that the projectile selection is random. The frontal area of the hall was divided into 3 arenas so that participants can compete simultaneously thus speeding up the process considerably. One team, unfortunately, did not meet the specified criteria for judging and, therefore, was disqualified. Hitherto they would go, but no further.
Time went on and the number of robots in the waiting line dwindled to single digits. The competition is heating up and this is merely round one, there’s much more to go. Out of 44 teams, only 5 will go on to the next round so timing is of the absolute essence if the teams wishes to move to the next round.
On the other side, the students’ category competition and judging gets under way. The task for them is slightly less advanced but still a challenge nonetheless. Using a line following method again, the robot has to make its way along a track. Sounds easy right? Well not really. The robot has to cross numerous checkpoints spread out across a track that includes a number of straight lines, acute angles and even a fully-fledged loop. Each team is given three attempts to complete the track and the best times of that track is recorded. The top five teams with fastest time will automatically progress to the second and final round. Our attention is momentarily drawn to a boy no more than 14 who seems to be a part of a team consisting of members far older than him. It is then that we find out that he is actually the youngest student to take part in the competition. Truly an inspiring moment for us all.
After a break, it was time for round two. This time, both students and undergraduates would be housed within the same hall. Both categories would have the same task as round one, but with additional tasks to make it even more challenging. For example, in the students’ category the robot is given 10 minutes to finish the track with a total of 3 attempts. Out of the 10 teams that took part, only two teams successfully managed to complete the track. A few of the robots seemed to spin out of control whereas others would simply make their own path along the track,
Once that was over, it was the second round for the undergraduate category. Their task was similar to round one but with an added challenge of a larger track with multiple paths. 7 teams remained to take part and it was here that the competition heated up. Each team would be given 8 minutes to complete the task and three attempts at completing the task. The robots exhibited a significantly better level of control compared to the students’ category but then again, that is to be expected. They did however, have their fair share of spinoffs and mishaps.
With the last of the robots completing the task, Round two came to a close. As the judged put their heads together to calculate the scores, the participants, and rest of the gathering was invited to refreshment. We took this time to charge up ourselves and our devices as well.
With the scoring complete, all that was left was to announce the winners of each category. It was at that point that the participants (and ourselves) were introduced to the guest of honor, Dr. Beshan Kulapala, who as we all know is a research scientist at CodGen International and project manager for Project Vega, the Sri Lankan built supercar.
Keerthi Gunawickrama was up on stage to recount his experience about the event.
“It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. If you have learnt something from this, then that’s all that matters”
Truly wise words indeed.
Dr. Manjula Wicremesinghe was up on stage next to share his insights on the day’s events. He explains that the knowledge gained by today’s event is indeed remarkable and should never be underestimated or undervalued. The victory is only 10% of the competition, whereas the remaining 90% is the sheer experience that can never be replaced or reproduced by any other means.He also explained how despite how far the competitors had come, there is still time for improvement. Even if you win or lose, you can still improve the efficiency of your work. Lastly, he also thanks the organizing committee for the methods they used to design the tasks.
Dr. Beshan Kulapala was up next to address the gathering. He drew from his life experience where he was part of a team responsible for building a line following robot in Florida and how happy he was to see the skills put forward by competitors. He also briefly touched upon his work with CodeGen and the Vega project.
A token of appreciation was handed to the judiciary panel for their hard work in judging, which by no means was an easy task.
It was then the moment we’d been waiting for: the announcing of the winners.
Tokens of appreciation were handed to the Chief Guest and Guest of Honor.
The Vote of thanks was given out by Suramya Amal. He thanked the dignitaries, the chief guest, the guest of honor, the panel of judged and the Xbotix Organizing committee. It truly was a well-organized event that showcased the talents of both undergraduates and school students.
With that Xbotix 2015 officially came to a close. We bid farewell to the organizers and acquaintances and wished them good luck in their future endeavors. We hope to see them again for Xbotix 2016.
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