Students learn from robot games

SINGAPORE--Some may consider it kids' game, but robotics can go a long way in encouraging students to think creatively and learn to build products that are commercially viable, said a local educator at Republic Polytechnic (RP).

The tertiary institution on Wednesday held its inaugural Underwater Robotics Olympiad, a competition targeted specifically for secondary school students. The polytechnic had clinched three medals awarded at the country's Singapore Robotic Games (SRG) competition, held earlier this January.

The Underwater Robotics Olympiad is the result of a collaboration between RP and A-Main Objectives, a home-grown enterprise that specializes in robotics technology and building materials. Sixty teams from 42 secondary schools in Singapore participated in the competition.

A-Main supplied the components, hardware, motors and controllers required to build the robots in the contest, while RP provided the software used to operate the robots.

Compared to land-based robotics, underwater robotics expose students to a different set of difficulties and concepts on robot building technology. This urges young minds to be creative in order to solve the unique challenges, said Tan Heap Jui, assistant director of capability development at RP's school of engineering. "[Such] competitions will unleash their creativity," he told ZDNet Asia in an interview Monday.

RP's Underwater Olympiad was held in the school's swimming pool, featuring obstacles around which participants have to maneuver their robots. The different dynamics and density faced by the robot underwater posed a challenge for students.

"When in the water, you are dealing with three-dimensions, on land you are dealing with only two-dimensions. You also need to take care of water proofing," Anthony Ong, managing director of A-Main, explained in the interview. Apart from not allowing water to seep into the electronics compartment, Ong noted that condensation might take place when the robot is submerged. Students were then challenged to think of solutions to prevent such incidents, he said.

Prasanna Kumar, senior manager of RP's robotics laboratory, highlighted the importance of the putting together a sound conceptual design for the robots, including issues such as placements of motors, which affect the propelling motion, and the buoyancy of the robot.

Students will realize how daily household objects, such as plastic storage containers, can also be used in the construction of the robot, said Kumar, adding that these items can be easily found in most hardware shops.

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