Flinders robots make war games final

robotA first-year Flinders University science student has played an integral part in the development of super-smart robots that will come under the watchful eyes of high-ranking international defence officials at a war games event in November.

Only eight months ago, Joel Cottrell was still a student at the Australian Science and Mathematics School (ASMS) when he won a Flinders University Summer Scholarship to enable the State’s best and brightest to be part of the initial design phase of the robots.

Now, thanks in part to his clever electronics design, Joel is a member of the consortium led by Flinders University that has been named the only Australian finalist in MAGIC 2010, an international challenge to develop the next generation of battlefield robots.

The project is a joint initiative of Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Organisation and the US Department of Defence.

Team MAGICian (Multiple Autonomous Ground-vehicle International Challenge by Intelligent Autonomous Navigators) will compete against five other teams from Turkey, Japan and the US – all vying for a share of more than US$1 million prize money – at Adelaide’s Royal Showground.

Comprising researchers and students from Flinders School of Computer Science, Engineering and Mathematics, the University of Western Australia’s Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Edith Cowan University, and industry partners Thales and Illiarc, Team MAGICian will receive US$50,000 to complete work on its robots.

The team was selected as a finalist after site visits by Australian and US officials to evaluate the robots of the 12 teams shortlisted late last year from 23 entries from five countries.

Professor David Powers [pictured], MAGICian team leader and Director of Flinders Artificial Intelligence, Knowledge Discovery and Language Technologies Laboratories, said the team was required to demonstrate the robots’ ability to operate autonomously as they map their surroundings and deal with a simulated emergency response scenario.

“We are excited – and more than a little nervous – to be among such a very select group of finalists,” Professor Powers said.

“To have been chosen from such a competitive international field is testament to the creativity and many hours of hard work of our team of researchers, including students such as Joel,” he said.

“In addition to getting us to the finals, a really important spin-off is that the technology we’re developing is feeding directly into Flinders undergraduate engineering programs and will boost our intake of PhD candidates in the area of robotics. We also have ongoing involvement of a group of nine students from ASMS who are learning on the job by helping us run all the experiments necessary to refine our robots and produce a winning entry, under the guidance of Joel and other team members.”

Flinders Vice-Chancellor Professor Michael Barber, congratulating Professor Powers and the team, said the MAGICian entry reflected a number of the University’s strategic objectives.

“By pooling the research and organisational capabilities of three universities and two leading industry partners, MAGICian represents in a nutshell Flinders commitment to solving real-world problems through collaboration,” Professor Barber said.

“It also demonstrates how research, teaching and learning intersect to foster innovation and critical thinking, and to give students incomparable experiences,” he said.

“On behalf of the University community, I commend Professor Powers and the team for their achievements to date and wish them every success at the grand final in November.”

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