First place for UNSW at the QUT Droid Racing Challenge

For the second consecutive year, UNSW wins the student robotics challenge.

It was a proud day for UNSW CREATE students from Team Mature – Harry Dudley-Bestow (Mechatronics), Jabez Thomas (Computer Science) and Jack Scott (Mechatronics) – who won the QUT Droid Racing Challenge (DRC) in Queensland. The team competed successfully against 10 qualifying teams from seven Australasian universities at the beginning of July.

While the challenge might have looked like remote cars racing around a circuit, these vehicles were autonomous – tiny versions of what could be driverless cars of the future. They “self-raced” around the course, avoiding lines and obstacles designed to derail them.

The teams were judged in the initial round on their ability to pass landmarks, finish the track, avoid obstacles and general performance – speed, consistency and driving smoothness.

“The day was certainly challenging,” UNSW CREATE team leader Daniel Castillo says. “One issue, which we didn’t see coming, was the changing lighting conditions as the circuit was outdoors. Shadows, glare and reflections were on the track, but our vehicles’ computer vision was able to interpret this information and keep the cars on the track.”

Both UNSW CREATE teams made it into the final knockout round, which Castillo described as gruelling. “The semi-final race between us and Macquarie University’s team was neck-to-neck,” he says. “There was some spirited rivalry that certainly added to the excitement of the day.”

So what put UNSW ahead of the competition? According to Castillo, only UNSW’s teams integrated an actuator control system, which was a big factor in helping the cars maintain speed around the circuit.

The UNSW CREATE teams were surprised at the level of competition at this year’s DRC. In 2016 there were few competitive platforms, but the vehicles entered this year had both UNSW CREATE teams unsure if the University would keep their first-place trophy.

“Notable mentions must go to the University of Queensland, which achieved second place, and the University of Macquarie, which presented a great challenge to our teams,” Castillo says. “Their platforms were faster than ours but weren’t able to avoid obstacles and stay within the lanes with the level of reliability and accuracy of our winning group, Team Mature.”

Most of this year’s UNSW CREATE DRC members were new – only three had competed previously at the event. For some, it was their first experience using computer vision. The challenge gives all students more confidence and skills for future robotics competitions.

Team Mature gained experience using OpenCV and C++ working with Linux-based computers and designing their first classifier, while Team NothingSpecial explored MATLAB’s new visual packages that proved useful in developing vision-based robotics. Both teams gained manufacturing and electronics experience through building power-distribution systems, networking set-ups, control systems hardware and physical chassis design.

Well done to the following students who entered for UNSW CREATE:

Team Mature – first place

  • Harry Dudley-Bestow (Mechatronics)
  • Jabez Thomas (Computer Science)
  • Jack Scott (Mechatronics)

Team NothingSpecial – fourth place

  • Edward Halliday (Mechatronics)
  • Nick Tucker (Mechatronics/Biomedical)
  • Aidan Hartley (Mechatronics/Physics)
  • Danielle Bennett (Physics)

Project Leaders:

  • Daniel Castillo (Mechatronics)
  • Lachlan Boyle (Mechatronics)
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  • Team Mature who took home the trophy.
  • The winning droid.