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UCD gears up for robot rugby

Lego bots prepare for the scrum

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Faster, higher, more intuitive. It's not quite the Olympics, but the third annual Siemens Roborugby tournament promises a fresh approach to engineers' education.

Held at University College Dublin (UCD), teams of students design robots to try and claim top honours and the table-top contest aims to show a practical and fun side to engineering. Siemens has invested €10,000 in the tournament over the past three years, and having started with just 40 participants in 2005 there will be 60 students vying for the 2007 Roborugby crown on 26 April.

"It shows that engineering isn't just swotting away in a lab, and it's doing so in a challenging way," said Dr Scott Rickard, one of the tournament's founders and organisers.

Rickard first came across Roborugby as a student in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). "I was totally unprepared for the scale of the competition," he said. "When I felt the electricity generated by 1,200 people in auditorium [at the MIT competition] it changed the way I thought classes could be."

Participants in the Roborugby competition are taking it as a module in UCD. The majority of participants are first year engineering students and Rickard said the course had become "the cornerstone of the first year programme". The competition is open to any student of any course that can fit the programme into their schedule under UCD's modularisation policy. From next year a quarter of the participants will be computer science students.

In total 16 teams will compete in a double elimination tournament, where a team is eliminated from contention after two defeats. Just like in human sports the methods used by the lego brick-built robots must evolve as using the same tactics as past winners won't guarantee to win.

"In the first year a team deployed a big [lego] wall so we imposed a height restriction the next year it would be harder for that kind of design to win," said John Healy, a teaching assistant in UCD who is helping the teams get ready for the competition. "The designs have to be more intelligent."

Healy told ENN the competition would help students understand the conditions engineers face in a professional environment. "Part of the reason you do a course like this is to be creative within limited means," said Healy. "In the real world engineers are presented with limitations they have to deal with."

The third annual Siemens Roborugby competition talks place on Thursday, 26 April at the Clinton Auditorium in UCD. Further information can be found at Roborugby.org.

Copyright © 2007, ENN

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