Students victorious at microrobotics challenge in Germany

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A team of undergraduate students comprised mainly of Waterloo Engineering students won an international microrobotics competition, and  did so in less than one second.

The Mobile Microrobotics Challenge took place at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Karlsruhe, Germany. The Waterloo team won the Autonomous Mobility Challenge, where the microrobots must autonomously navigate a track in the shape of a figure eight.

The engineering students were supported by colleagues from arts and math. Matthew Maclean, a third-year student in software engineering, was the controller for the Waterloo team—much like being the driver for a racing team. He controlled the microrobot with computer code, and says precise movements are critical in order to avoid catastrophe.

"When you have something that small, if you are a few milliseconds too slow when controlling the robot, it could end up off the course at a distance 100 times its size," said Maclean. "We do lose the robots from time to time when testing because it's like trying to find a speck of dust."

The implications of this performance can lead to progressive leaps in the development of micro-scale applications including targeted drug delivery, minimally invasive surgery and advanced electronics manufacturing.

The Waterloo team, made up of about 45 undergraduate students who are part of the University of Waterloo Nanorobotics Group, defeated six other teams from Canada, the United States, France and the Czech Republic. This is the second year a Waterloo team has won this competition. [news release]

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