Cars race themselves around UCT track

05 December 2012 | Story by Newsroom

UCT's Sports Centre has had athletes of all shapes and sizes strutting their stuff, with the common factor typically being that all were, well, human.

Robot rotors Robot rotors winners Robot rotors
Robot rotors: Hammerhead also entertained the crowd with their quad-rotored helicopter, which blew a welcome breeze through the Sports Centre. The winners: (from left) Julian Kent, Justin Pead, Richard Whittemore and Michael Riger of Hammerhead won the day as their autonomous car raced around the track at unparalleled speed. Just a little more: The dashes for the finish line were preceded by hours of careful modification as pit crews eked out the best performances from their vehicles.

So, 2 December represented something of a plunge into the deep end of artificial intelligence (AI) when a group of remote-controlled toy cars decided to ditch their remotes and human controllers and race around a track in the Sports Centre of their own volition.

In fairness, the human controllers - all engineering students from UCT, the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and Stellenbosch University (US) - had modified the cars to do just that.

Dubbed RoboRace SA, the maiden event was based on the annual RoboRace Ukraine that tours Europe, and was organised by a group of UCT engineering students. Race teams (the humans) each received a remote-controlled car - either a rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. They were then tasked with adding a sensor that would allow the car to pick up and follow a line of black masking tape laid out down the centre of the track.

The nine RoboRace SA teams could do just about anything they wanted to to make the cars race around the track autonomously, except tamper with the motor and chassis, and pit crews were furiously tweaking their designs throughout the event.

Pit crews frantically tweaked their machines in preparation for the round-robin time-trial stage, and then tweaked them some more after.

Team Hammerhead, from UCT's Robotics and Agents Research lab, posted the quickest time in the final to claim the best Leatherman knives and the title of the first winners of the pioneering RoboRace SA.

Mohamed Ziyaad Mukuddem, the fourth-year UCT mechatronics engineering student that brought the idea to our shores after discovering the race at an engineering conference in Europe earlier this year, said he hoped RoboRace would become an annual feature in South Africa.

"We are looking at the possibility of having Robot Wars next year, where teams build robots that actually fight each other," said Mukuddem. "For now we're glad that RoboRace SA 2012 was a success!"

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