Rugby robots battle it out in Belfield

UCD engineering students build bespoke players for college contest

First year engineer students at UCD with some of their robots – pictured are from left Sean Totterdell, Aisling Drumgoole, Brian Feighan, Aideen Doyle, Niamh O Brien and James Greer. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

First year engineer students at UCD with some of their robots – pictured are from left Sean Totterdell, Aisling Drumgoole, Brian Feighan, Aideen Doyle, Niamh O Brien and James Greer. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Tue, Apr 23, 2013, 18:35

It’s a university known for its rugby tradition, but with their fuzzy vision, Lego for arms and wheels for legs, the latest players produced from the UCD engineering department may not help Ireland’s sporting woes.

However the RoboRugby project by the first year engineering students could assist our economy. It encourages students to “think creatively to solve problems they haven’t seen before”, skills which they will use as professionals, electronic engineering lecturer Brian Mulkeen said today.

There was tension in the lab as 62 students made finishing tweaks to 21 robots preparing to battle it out in the Siemens RoboRugby Competition this evening .

Teams have been assembling thousands of pieces and programming their robotic control panel (handyboards) and planning strategy as part of their electronics module since January. Since the players are autonomous, not remote controlled, the students can only watch and wince once the competition begins.

However each team believed its robot had the secret weapon which would outdo opponents, with some closely guarding designs from other teams in recent weeks.

“Ours has this clamp which is superior to most of the other teams for capturing the red ball, worth the most points” explained Aisling Drumgoole (18) “We’ve programmed it to follow lines , recognise beams and different colours” her team-mate Aideen Doyle (19) said.

Defence was the aim of Stuart Gallagher (18) and Cillian Doyle (19)’s robot. “We compromised on weight and speed to go for something reliable but because it is slow there is not great chance of getting as many balls. So we decided to do something to stop the other teams...that’s when we came up with the idea of a wall” explained Mr Doyle as he demonstrated his robot which has a lego wall to place around the opponent’s goal line.

Students remarked at the mix of skills applied, which not only included electronic engineering but complemented their computer programming module and mechanical skills .

The practical approach was welcomed by sponsor engineering company Siemens as it “really stimulates for creative thinking and innovation – and we see applications for this in our sector where robotics has become a much more important,” Michael O’Connor of Siemens Ireland said.

While there were some tackles and mauls on the ping-pong table-sized pitch, with 13 round plastic balls and two opposing players, Mr Mulkeen admitted that the project is not much like rugby. The RoboRugby name was made up by a colleague when the first project began nine years ago. “He was from the US and doesn’t know the first thing about rugby but thought it was catchy,” Mr Mulkeen said.