Open minds lead to victory

Education | Cara Chen 24 Sep 2019

When you think you're a success, you will become a success. It may sound arrogant, but it's often true.

At the 2019 Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union Asia-Pacific Robot Contest, the robotics team from The Chinese University of Hong Kong did so by approaching the competition with a relaxed, open attitude.

"The final eight was our original goal, so after reaching it, we had a casual mindset about going further," said Lam Chun Ting, year 4 student from the department of computer science and engineering. "And we had a great time."

The team made history as the first Hong Kong team to win an international trophy for robotics since the competition began in 2002.

Inspired by a traditional messenger system in the host country of Mongolia, this year's competition challenged teams to build one manual robot and one four-legged automatic robot that could navigating obstacles while carrying a token and throwing a bone dice, with team that could reach 50 points on the dice, reach to the finish line and lift the token the fastest winning.

The CUHK team won the local competition in June and went on to represent the SAR against 16 other regional winning teams in the final in August.

"In the local contest, the team focused too much on precision and ignored speed," Lam said.

After the local round, the team spent a month strengthening their manual robot and reprogramming their automatic robot to speed it up, which resulted in their new record of 35 seconds in the finale, 15 seconds faster than their initial results.

"This year's competition was more difficult," second-time team leader Yip Chun Wa said. "But we do have a larger and more experienced team, and all aspects of the logistics arrangements were in place."

He added that during this year's competition, his biggest takeaway was how to properly assign tasks according to the personalities and abilities of his team members.

As CUHK is predominantly research-oriented, instead of providing lectures or tutorials during the preparation process, the training materials were prepared by the students themselves and taught by the senior students, the team members said.

"It's just an extracurricular activity and students won't get any credit for it, so I'm glad to see them doing it with such passion and persistence, even sacrificing their holidays," said Yip.

A larger team means there's always divided views, but the team solves this by battling their demo products in internal contests and discussing the best ideas to implement.

The collision of ideas has also brought surprises. This year, non-engineering students were allowed to join the team for the first time. An actuarial student designed a feedback sensor that could track and adjust the robot's direction and speed at any time.

"The sensor allows the robots to mark errors in its path while letting them know its orientation, increasing its flexibility in case of emergency," said Cheung Tsang Kit, Lam's teammate.

This was the key to beating five-time winners mainland China.

The mainland team lost due to an error in the game against Hong Kong, but the CUHK team were full of admiration for them, saying they used advanced technology they had never heard of before and had significant industrial resources to support them. "We have to admit we are not as good as them," said Cheung."They dared to try new technology and spent time studying how to implement ideas with them, which is a challenge for us."

Yip said that although the robots tend to follow the same scheme, the team makes improvements each year depending on the requirements of the situation. They also set up a research and development team this year, hoping to develop new technology that can help keep the championship title.

Next year's tournament will be hosted in Fiji and feature a rugby theme in which robots will have to pass and kick a rugby ball.

Cheung said the team learned a lot through the process. They learned how to solve tasks during the preparation stage from fellows and teachers and discovered the importance of taking it easy during the competition. "Of course we hope the team gets the best results next year but as we are graduating, we are also thinking of how to pass on the knowledge we have gained to our younger teammates."

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