HK Underwater Robot Challenge 2007 successfully held

Jenny Kwan

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Hong Kong Underwater Robot Challenge 2007, jointly organized by WWF and City University of Hong Kong (CityU), took place on 9 April in CityU's swimming pool.

Aimed at raising the younger generation's interest in robotic technology and marine conservation, Hong Kong Underwater Robot Challenge started in 2006. Its success with secondary school teachers, students and their parents led to its expansion to university and college students this year.

The rules and guidelines of the contest were based on those of an international competition that will take place in Canada later this year. In recognition of the International Polar Year in 2007, the international competition will highlight polar regions and reflect the challenges that scientists and engineers face working there. The Hong Kong teams faced similar tasks.

Mr Michael Chalmers, Executive Council Member of WWF Hong Kong said, "It's exciting to see these young talented scientists testing their underwater robots in a natural marine environment and I'm sure the exercise will further inspire their enthusiasm and creativity in the future application of high technology for protection of our marine environment. The future of our planet will be determined by the young generation and I look forward to seeing the increasing application of advanced technology to marine conservation programmes."

Professor David Tong Shuk-yin, Deputy President of CityU, said, "CityU is very keen to pass technology on to the younger generation through these kinds of interesting activities."

Research and teaching are inextricably linked, Professor Tong said. Research informs teaching, including the provision of research opportunities so students can contribute to the development of the community.

The contest started recruiting participants in December 2006. Teams of secondary school students were given a robot kit free of charge and CityU held workshops on building underwater robots and modifying the basic design to accomplish the tasks in the contest. College-level teams were encouraged to use the expertise available at CityU in their designs.

A visit to WWF's Hoi Ha Wan Marine Life Centre took place in March this year. The Centre uses underwater robots to monitor the underwater environment, coral ecology and its surrounding marine life.

The contest involved two phases: engineering presentation (robot production and poster design) and underwater robot competition. After three months of learning and preparation, 16 secondary school teams and five university/college teams took part in the final competition, in which teams remotely controlled their self-designed robots to complete three tasks.

After stiff competition from the competing finalists, HKTA The Yuen Yuen Institute No. 2 Secondary School and City University of Hong Kong took first place in the secondary school and university/college groups respectively.

Dr Robin Bradbeer, Associate Professor in the Department of Electronic Engineering at CityU, is the planner and technical consultant for the competition. She is happy that this year's competition was successfully expanded to include university/college students.

"I've been amazed by the students' achievements in technical knowledge, problem solving, critical thinking and teamwork throughout the process. These are the strongest motivations for me to keep on organizing these kind of activities," Dr Bradbeer said.

Dr Bradbeer hopes the winning teams will get enough sponsorship and grasp the opportunity to compete in the International Underwater Robot Challenge, which will be held at the Marine Institute and the Institute for Ocean Technology, Memorial University, Newfoundland, Canada, in June 2007.

Please visit the event website http://www.ee.cityu.edu.hk/rovcontest/ for further details.

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