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Teams prepare for robotics showdown in Sydney

1 July 2022
The James Cook University team work on their autonomous vehicle for the RobotX competition in November. (Image supplied)

Aspiring robotics specialists from around the world will converge on Sydney later this year to take part in the 2022 RobotX competition.

A biennial, university-level robotics competition, RobotX challenges students to design and build autonomous robotic systems for the maritime environment.

The 2022 event is jointly organised by US non-profit RoboNation, the US Office of Naval Research and Australia's Department of Defence, and has attracted teams from the US, Turkey, Italy, Singapore, Taiwan, China, Japan, Chile, and Peru.

Seven Australian teams will participate, including teams from the universities of Newcastle, South Australia, Sydney and Queensland, Flinders and James Cook University; and the Queensland University of Technology.

The competition requires teams to design and build robots that can navigate their way around a water course and make decisions entirely autonomously.

Defence researcher, Brendon Anderson explains that competitions such as RobotX are helping to build the next generation of robotics specialists, exposing students to real-world technological challenges and teaching them skills that they will carry with them throughout their professional life.

"There's no denying that autonomous systems are going to play an increasing role in our lives into the future – particularly in the Defence and security sector," he explains.

"Not only can they act as a force multiplier, they can be used to perform tasks that are too dangerous or time consuming for Defence personnel."

"RobotX provides the perfect environment for students to develop the skills necessary to support future capability needs."

For Joshua Smallwood, an engineering student at James Cook University in Townsville, the RobotX challenge presented an excellent opportunity to exercise the skills that he's been taught throughout his studies, and to do so in a creative, open-ended manner.

"As a mechanical engineer, I've been able to learn about techniques utilised in marine environments to minimise corrosion and prevent water ingress."

Many competitors, like Duane Johnston an engineering student at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) are attracted by the opportunity to pit their robotics skills against teams from around the world.

"The ability to be a part of an international robotics competition and learn new skills in a fun environment was what drew me to the competition," he says.

Historically Australian teams have performed well at RobotX, with QUT finishing 2nd and 3rd respectively in the 2016 and 2014 competitions, and Flinders University winning the 2016 prize for best overall documentation and website.

"Australia is very competitive in the field of robotics and autonomy," Brendon says.

"It's important that we build and sustain a healthy pipeline of robotics experts so that we can remain competitive into the future."

Jay Hunter, a student from the University of Queensland majoring in electrical engineering and mathematical physics says that he was drawn to RobotX for the particular challenges it presents.

"Major tech companies have been working for years to develop autonomous vehicles for driving on roads. Only recently have they seen success. To do that on sea where the weather and waves can be unpredictable is a fun challenge," he explains.

Defence's involvement in RobotX is funded through the Next Generation Technologies Fund.

More information about RobotX can be found at on the RobotX website.