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Student robotics challenge sharpens innovation and friendly rivalry
2/13/2017
Jennifer Muller  |  Office of Communications  |  media@aub.edu.lb  | 
Student robotics challenge sharpens innovation and friendly rivalry

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​Competition was intense but the atmosphere convivial in the Charles W. Hostler Student Center on Sunday as the basketball courts were transformed into test tracks for the second annual Engineering Design Challenge, “Drive Smarter." Eighteen teams of aspiring engineers from universities across Lebanon and Syria came to compete at AUB with their homemade self-driving cars. 

The teams had spent long hours preparing their inventions and testing them in preparation for the competition. Designs varied widely, and rarely looked very car-like, except for the chassis and wheels (although not necessarily four wheels). The robot cars had to be fully autonomous, with no remote control, and any intervention by the handlers resulted in loss of points.

Organizers from the AUB Robotics Club prepared different test courses including a “Driving Test" track with many twists and turns, a test course which included a parking space, and “Shawarma Express," where cars had to deliver small boxes to pre-determined locations along the track. Teams had to make their robotic cars from scratch and were judged not only on performance but also on overall design and cost efficiency. 

“What's interesting about this competition is that teams could use any platform they want, but if they use a more expensive platform they would lose points on the design, which should be as economical as possible," said Mohamad Fares Al Jajeh, one of the organizers. He explained that the cars were equipped with sensors and motors connected to a microcontroller such as Arduino or Raspberry Pi, which operated the vehicle. 

Some cars were built for precision while others seemed more inclined for speed.  On the sidelines, teams worked with their laptops, soldering irons, and electrical tape to make small adjustments to their vehicles. 

“The thing that's worth highlighting here is that it is all students," said Prof. Elie Shammas who teaches Robotics at the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (FEA). “They really did a tremendous job organizing it."

Collegiality in action

The AUB Robotics Club began in 2015 as a student society for those interested in furthering applied engineering education. They put on the first Engineering Design Challenge event last year and learned a lot from that experience, ramping up their efforts in terms of organization, sponsorship, and recruiting.

“This year we actually did presentations in other universities and this is why we got so many universities on board.  Last year it was only two universities from Lebanon and one from Syria, so this is a huge improvement," said Al-Jajeh.

Many participants cited the fact that it was challenging but rewarding.

“We faced a lot of problems but we learned a lot from that and it was very beneficial," said a member of NPower, a team from the American University of Science and Technology, which achieved third place in the overall competition.

“Last year's performances weren't so great, so this year we did many workshops covering things like mobile robotics, computer vision, and microcontrollers," said Al Jajeh.  “All the workshops were made available online for free, so even if a team didn't win, they gained something from the process."

At the end of the day of challenges and technical assessment by the judges was a speed competition, just for fun.  In fact, fun seemed to be the order of the day, highlighting the spirit of friendly competition that AUB President Khuri discussed recently in his “President's Perspective."

“The competitions in which our students participate show not just their inventiveness and resourcefulness, but also their collegiality and good sportsmanship," said President Khuri.

After the “King of Speed" race, winners of the overall competition were announced at the closing ceremony in which RobotRiders from the Lebanese University took the top award.

Team Kaizan from Yarmouk Private University (YPU) made the trip from Syria for the second year in a row and said they worked over 100 hours on their car.  This year they were rewarded with second place in the competition and exclaimed, “We're already looking forward to next year!"
Story Highlights
  • ​​​​Competition was intense but the atmosphere convivial in the Charles W. Hostler Student Center on Sunday as the basketball courts were transformed into test tracks for the second annual Engineering Design Challenge, “Drive Smarter." Eighteen teams of aspiring engineers from universities across Lebanon and Syria came to compete at AUB with their homemade self-driving cars.  

 
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