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Trinity Robotics Club goes from strength to strength

The newly founded Trinity Robotics Club, established to allow students develop their practical engineering skills, is proving to be a huge success, culminating in a recent intervarsity competition in Galway.

3 February 2012

Engineering students know that whether they are applying for employment, summer internships or for postgraduate funding, it's extremely difficult to stand out in the current environment. Academic grades seem to carry the highest weight and the effect this has is that if you don’t rank in the top 5-10% of an Engineering class, many of the most exciting opportunities in Engineering are currently not available to you.

The Trinity Robotics Club was established for many reasons but one of the most important ones was to give ambitious and enthusiastic engineering students the opportunity to develop their practical Engineering skills and to really show people what they are capable of doing. The club and the members in it should be judged on their work alone. In this sense, grades don’t matter - it's what you make and how hard you work that counts.

The term 'robotics' is ambiguous. It's used to describe technology ranging from repetitive automation in factories, teleoperated planetary vehicles and even pilotless planes. The Robotics Club at Trinity are exclusively interested in developing autonomous robots. These machines (once programmed) are equipped with the sensing, reasoning and deduction skills required to operate with no human intervention whatsoever.

Since its founding in October 2011, the Trinity Robotics Club has gained over 35 active members and has already built more than 13 fully functional autonomous robots. Many of these robots were
built to compete in the game of 'Robot-Sumo'. Much like the sport of Sumo wrestling, Robot-Sumo is a game where two autonomous robots are placed in a ring (doyho) and the goal for each robot is to push the opposing robot out of the ring.

Building a Robot-Sumo is a non-trivial task and provides an excellent introduction to autonomous robotics and practical, multi-discipline Engineering. In order to play the game, Sumo-Robots must be equipped with a range of sensors and programmed in such a way that they are capable of sensing the opposing robot and the confines of the doyho. Further, their mechanical design must be optimised in such a way that they can effectively wedge the opponent robot out of the ring.

The 'Trinity Robotics Competition' was held on 13th December, 2011. This internal competition was a 'Mini-Sumo' tournament and featured 11 fully operational robots, each of which was fully financed, constructed and programmed by members of the Robotics club. To anyone present that evening, the passion, commitment, excitement and ambition on display was remarkable.

To build on the success of this event, on the 21st January, 2012 the Trinity Robotics team travelled to the Radisson Hotel in Galway to compete in the 'Irish Intervarsity Robotics Competition' – the first national robotics competition of its type in the country. Sixteen robots from Trinity, UCD and GMIT competed in this tournament and as a testament to the work being done in the Robotics Club, three of the four robots that progressed to the semi-finals where from Trinity. Ultimately the 'Close Enough' team from Trinity took the crown as Irish Robotics Champions in what turned out to be an enthralling final against the 'El Toro' team (also from Trinity).

These 'Mini-Sumo' robots are only the start of what is to come from the TCD Robotics club. Among the projects that the team are currently working on include humanoid robots, quad copters (helicopters with four rotors) and even a ground vehicle capable of fully autonomous navigation around the Trinity campus. According to PhD student and founding member of the club Conor McGinn, the impact of the club over time will be substantial “For too long Engineering has been badly represented in the media and stigmatised by popular perception. We want to change this by showing people how exciting engineering can be. By building robots that are capable of capturing people’s imagination, we hope to make our work accessible to the people of all ages and backgrounds. We will not be confining our robots to the labs and classrooms in Trinity. Instead we want to popularise engineering by showcasing our robots and exposing people to the work that we are doing”.

Further media coverage of the Irish Intervarsity Robotics Competition can be found here:

Irish Times and Silicon Republic

*Article courtesy of the Trinity Robotics Club

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