MBZIRC, the Premium event with Spanish participation

The adventure kicked off back in February 2015 with the official announcement of the challenge. Like the rest of the candidates in the Mohamed Bin Zayed International Robotics Challenge (MBZIRC) we were asked to send in our proposals by November. A daunting prospect in one of the events attracting the world’s most brilliant robotics minds.

mbzirc_full_color_logo_reverseA total of 143 applications was sent in. This was ruthlessly whittled down to a shortlist of 25, including us, to take part in the first competition of 2017. The challenge is then to be held every two years from then on, in the Vehicle Dynamics Area (VDA) of the Yas Marina Formula 1 circuit in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates). University teams from China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Australia, United States, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Denmark, France, Poland and Spain will pit their wits against each other in 4 challenges, with a total prize sum of 5 million dollars.

The competition is financed by the UAE’s ITC Fund and organized by Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa University, both seeking the same end of encouraging innovation, increasing knowledge and broadening scientific research horizons.

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Daring, creativity and innovation are the three qualities most needed by this robotics competition. The remit is to develop and control air and land vehicles capable of carrying out complex tasks in dynamic environments. “Challenge 1” was to locate, track and land an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) on a moving vehicle. “Challenge 2” was to locate and reach a working panel and physically operate a valve stem on the panel (grabbing the right wrench and turning the valve through 360º. “Challenge 3” required a team of UAVs to collaborate to search, locate, track, pick and place a set of static and moving objects in a common zone. Lastly, the “Grand Challenge” required the three abovementioned activities to be carried out simultaneously.

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We at GMV are taking part in the Al-Robotics team led by Universidad de Sevilla (AICIA) together with the Advanced Aerospace Technology Center (Centro Avanzado de Tecnologías Aeroespaciales: FADA-CATEC). This multi-talented team was the only Spanish team to make it through MBZIRC’s short-listing process. Not only that, GMV’s participation as a private firm posed an additional challenge, forcing us to test our mettle against the world’s best research and study centers. We more than managed to hold our own, clearly demonstrating our capacity to take on such advanced developments. Witness the results, finishing fifth, seventeenth and seventh, respectively, in the three challenges and twelfth in the final grand challenge. We were also available to draw on our experience built up in our habitual ESA work and bring it to bear on terrestrial research sectors and applications. Conversely, the experience will help GMV to come up with new ideas in space applications.

We could point to many positive experiences arising from our participation in the MBZIRC competition, but without any doubt the standout aspect is the possibility of creating and programming systems that can then be applied to real life. Seeing the result is rewarding and having the chance to take part in these initiatives, brokered by such important institutions, represents a veritable milestone in the career of each participant.

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But it has not all been plain sailing. Like the rest of the teams we have had to deal with unforeseen hitches and last-ditch changes. We came across discrepancies between the organization’s pre-competition description of the challenges and the challenge as actually faced. This called for swift, on-the-spot tweaks to hardware and software design in order to perform successfully the tasks required by the various challenges.

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MBZ International Robotic Challenge rounded off its program with a workshop, held on 19 March, which debated the next robotics steps and robotics’ impact on science and society. This debate featured such leading figures as Professor Satoshi Tadokoro (Tohoku University, Japan), Professor Marcelo H. Ang Jr (National University of Singapore) and Professor Paolo Dario (Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Italy).

Author: Alberto Medina

Las opiniones vertidas por el autor son enteramente suyas y no siempre representan la opinión de GMV
The author’s views are entirely his own and may not reflect the views of GMV
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