University of Pretoria students show off robotics skills

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The winning robot created by Herman Lombard and Gerhard de Clercq.
The winning robot created by Herman Lombard and Gerhard de Clercq.

The University of Pretoria last week hosted its Tuks Robot Race Day, which saw more than 70 autonomous robotic vehicles take to the track to compete for the top spot.

Now in its seventh year, the event, co-ordinated by the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology, has grown in leaps and bounds, with more students getting involved and showcasing their innovation, computing, programming and engineering skills, the university says.

Professor Tania Hanekom, function head for undergraduate studies at the University of Pretoria, says providing world-class education to students is what the university strives for across all departments and the Robot Race Day is just one of the ways education is enhanced.

“Our annual Robot Car Race provides a platform to stimulate curiosity and creativity, which is crucial for the innovation and entrepreneurship that a career in engineering demands,” says Hanekom.

“The project guides aspiring engineers through a carefully planned process to develop a fundamental set of engineering skills, which include hardware and software design skills, systems integration skills, the ability to work and function in a team, time management skills, perseverance and the good old indispensable ‘engineering gut feeling’ which comes only with experience in the execution of engineering projects.”

She adds the educational objectives of the Robot Race Day are strongly supported by the university’s partnerships with industry, which provide the necessary resources to maintain this flagship event.

“On behalf of the students and the engineering faculty, I would like to thank RS Components South Africa for assisting us with the various components, batteries and support over the years. We look forward to future engagements with RS.”

The Tuks Robot Race Day offers students the opportunity to put theory into practice, Hanekom notes, adding that students are required to build autonomous robotic vehicles, with a sensor system able to detect specific colours on the multi-coloured track that is developed as part of their analogue electronics module.

The day also gives them a platform to work as a team and demonstrate innovation and technical skills in developing these robots.

This year’s winners are Gerhard de Clercq and Herman Lombard, who were both ecstatic after their robot raced against 78 others with a winning time of 22 seconds.

Lombard, a third year student, says he is grateful to all the sponsors for their continued support of the Tuks Robot Race Day.

Winning team, Gerhard Clercq and Herman Lombard.
Winning team, Gerhard Clercq and Herman Lombard.

“I would personally like to extend a huge thank you to RS Components SA for providing some of the main components we needed to complete our robot. The right resources are the absolute key to any successful project,” he says.

Mellisa Govender, marketing director of RS Components SA, says nurturing the next generation of creators, innovators and engineers was high on her agenda.

“RS Components’ continued involvement in this project is in line with the company’s policy of supporting both professional and future engineers by giving them access to the components and tools they require to excel.

“We are also very proud of our DesignSpark Web site, which is an online technical community for engineers around the world with more than 750 000 members, who can be of assistance to students and engineers working on real-world applications. DesignSpark also offers free software tools.”

Govender explains the software has an integrated library of components that comprises more than 250 000 components and parts, which can be added to customer designs.

“I also commend Professor Hanekom and her team for their tremendous efforts to make the Robot Race Day an annual success,” she says.

Robots of all shapes and sizes were the order of the day.
Robots of all shapes and sizes were the order of the day.
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