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ECU WAMBOT robot makes it into the finals of Magic Challenge

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

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A panel of military observers has begun assessing the Australian teams fighting for a spot in the next round of a $US1.6 million ($1.8m) international military robotics competition. The Multi-Autonomous Ground-robotic International Challenge (Magic), jointly sponsored by the Defence Science and Technology Organisation and US Department of Defence, was established to develop the next generation of military robots. Of the 12 teams shortlisted to compete in the latest round of the Magic 2010 robot challenge, five are from the US, four are from Australia and one is from each of Canada, Jap an and Turkey. Ten of the teams received $US50,000 to develop their proposals. The shortlisted teams, announced in November, will be reduced to five this month. Each of the five finalists will receive $US50,000 to complete their project for the Grand Challenge Event, to be held in South Australia in November.

The first, second and third placed teams will win $US750,000, $U5250,000 and $US100,000 respectively, and a chance to work with the US and Australian defence forces.  The aim of the game, held for the first time, is to develop robots capable of operating autonomously in conducting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions to make operations safer for flesh-and-blood military personnel. The two Australian teams that received funding for the latest round are a consortium known as the Western Australian Magic 2010 Robotics Team (WAMBOT), which involves the University of Western Australia, Flinders University, Edith Cowan University and primary sponsor Thales Australia. The other was headed by robotics company Strategic Engineering, with the University of Adelaide.  The two self-funded teams selected were Numinance, which partnered with La Trobe University with support from 10 small companies, and the University of New South Wales with Kumamoto University, Japan. 

University of New South Wales team leader Jay Katupitya, of the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, said the team, which included software expert Dr Jose Guivant, had spent about $60,000 to $70,000 on its entry. "There's really nothing that is currently in use which can operate entirely on its own. They are all remote-controlled," Associate Professor Katupitya said. "These ones will be on their own and the only thing that we will have is the information that is streaming back, which is the difference." 

WA team co-ordinator and adjunct lecturer at ECU's School of Computer and Security Science Dr Adrian Boeing, who specialises in sensor fusion, said the group received an additional $50,000 from its primary sponsor, Thales Australia, along with funding from the universities. Dr Boeing said the goals of the competition included mapping capabilities and avoiding certain hostile objects. The team's entry, WAMBOT, includes innovative technology such as simultaneous localisation and mapping, sensor fusion, behavioural or agent-based artificial intelligence, navigation systems and multi-hop communications.

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