The competition: Mohamed Bin Zayed International Robotics Challenge (MBZIRC)
Location: Abu Dhabi
Total prize pool: $US5 million
This month, Sri Lankan-born PhD candidate Janindu Sithumini Arukgoda will compete in one of the world’s toughest robotics competitions – MBZIRC.
MBZIRC requires teams to use their robotic unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) to respond to one of three challenges – locate, track and land a UAV on a moving vehicle; locate, reach and use a UGV to operate a valve system of a panel, or; use a team of UAVs to search for, locate, track, pick and place a set of static and moving objects.
When things work, it’s amazing
Competitors willing to put it all on the line can also choose to respond to all three. It’s known as the Grand Challenge, and it’s the challenge Arukgoda and his team, Team Victor, have chosen to undertake. Though, if Arukgoda is feeling overwhelmed he certainly doesn’t show it.
“It’s the first time I’ve competed in a competition of this calibre and, when things work, it’s amazing,” enthuses Arukgoda. “It can get so frustrating though; sometimes we spend a week trying to fix a single problem.”
For the competition, being held from 16 to 18 March, Arukgoda has joined forces with the team from Virginia Tech (VT) in the United States. They’re one of 27 international teams competing in MBZIRC.
“Virginia Tech has subcontracted UTS because here at the Centre for Autonomous Systems, we are pretty good at SLAM (simultaneous localisation and mapping). So we work with VT and I am the on-site engineer from UTS,” says Arukgoda, “My strength is programming, however there are other members of our team who can build the UAVs from the ground up.”
And that, says Arukgoda, is one of the team’s main strengths going into the competition. “Our custom-built UAVs will be more powerful. That is predominantly why I was sent here, to learn the skill of building them. So I am always bugging my team getting tips.”
It’s knowledge that will help Arukgoda in his studies, too. His PhD is centred around indoor SLAM using UAVs. Robotics is a field that Arukgoda says “I just naturally got into”.
After finishing a bachelors degree in computer science and engineering at the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka in 2015, he was offered a postgraduate place at UTS’s Centre for Autonomous Systems.
It was a smooth change for the 26-year-old who spends his free time doing early-morning hikes, reading crime thriller fiction, and lending a hand to his little sister throughout her very own bachelors of computer science and engineering at the University of Colombo in Sri Lanka.
“I make friends easily”, Arukgoda laughs, quickly adding, “you just need to show that you can carry your own weight.”