Summer scholarships come to robots’ defence

davidrobotheadA consortium led by Flinders University with the support of leading defence contractor Thales is one of only ten to have been shortlisted from an international field to take part in a global war games challenge, it was announced today.

Sponsored by the US and Australian Departments of Defence, the Multi Autonomous Ground-robotic International Challenge, or MAGIC 2010, aims to develop super-smart robots that can work together to complete a task that involves multiple robots working together to accurately reconnoitre an urban environment, identifying and neutralising simulated targets such as mines or improvised explosive devices and enemy combatants or terrorists.

The challenge will be held in an undisclosed South Australian location in October next year – the first time an event of this kind has been held anywhere in the world outside of the United States.

The Flinders team, MAGICian – or Multiple Autonomous Ground-vehicle International Challenge by Intelligent Autonomous Navigators – consists of researchers and students from Flinders School of Computer Science, Engineering and Mathematics, the University of Western Australia Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and Edith Cowan University.

The international electronics and systems group Thales, serving the defence, aerospace and security industries, is the team’s major sponsor and will be an active participant in MAGICian. Sensor manufacturer SICK and defence integrator Allied Data Systems are also providing valuable support.

MAGICian team leader and Director of the Flinders Artificial Intelligence, Knowledge Discovery and Language Technologies Laboratories, Professor David Powers [pictured] said the competition aims to fill a gap in existing robot technology.

“It makes sense to send robots instead of soldiers and emergency workers into dangerous situations,” Professor Powers said.

“However, the existing technology might require two people to operate one robot. The challenge is to develop the technology that will allow one or two operators to manage a team of half a dozen or more autonomous vehicles simultaneously, and to have the robots coordinate and reorganise amongst themselves to ensure the task is completed effectively.”
To improve the MAGICian team’s chances, Flinders Vice-Chancellor Professor Michael Barber has established eight, $3000 Summer Scholarships for final-year engineering students to undertake project work over the summer.

“MAGIC 2010 is an important opportunity for Australia to get involved with a wider spectrum of defence activity,” Professor Barber said.

“This project includes several critical technologies in which Flinders has cutting-edge, internationally reputed research,” he said.

“Flinders has award-winning students already involved in this project, and I encourage all fourth-year engineering students with an interest in robotics to apply for one of the Summer Scholarships and to be part of the MAGICian team.

“This is an opportunity for engineering students across Australia to come to Flinders and take part in a unique research and learning experience.”

This week, Flinders fourth-year students Daix Tregenza and Naisan Yazdani were awarded the top two prizes for the 2009 IET Rex Johns Student Presentation Prize, both for work on technologies that will be employed in the MAGIC competition.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology awarded the South Australia and Northern Territory first prize to Mr Tregenza for his work on “Robot Teaming”, getting teams of autonomous robots to work together with a minimum of supervision.

Second prize was award to Mr Naisan Yazdani for his work on a “Brain Controlled Wheelchair”. This technology will also be adapted to assist operators in controlling and monitoring robots and other kinds of vehicles.

In the coming months, five of the ten shortlisted teams will receive a payment of US$50,000, with the promise of another US$50,000 in June 2010, to develop and build their vehicle prototypes and human-robot interfaces.
The top three ranked teams will receive US$750,000, US$250,000 and US$100,000 respectively and opportunities for contracts with the US and Australian Departments of Defence.

Final year engineering students interested in being part of MAGICian can apply for a Summer Scholarship by emailing david.powers@flinders.edu.au and providing details of their current background and enrolment.

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