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Transport and roll-out: Curtin robot to compete in live knockout finals

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Murphy the autonomous Curtin robot will be rolled-out later this month to compete in the National Instruments Autonomous Robotics Competition finals (NI-ARC). Built by members of the Curtin Robotics Club (CRoC) Murphy will vie against 26 robots from universities across Australia and New Zealand for a chance to win a $2500 cash prize – and, of course, ultimate bragging rights.

The Curtin Robotics Club with their robot
Caption: The Curtin Robotics Club NI-ARC team with their robot, Murphy. From left to right: Tam Tran, Nav R.Ravichandar, Alex Ahern and Thomas Johnson. Absent: Ben Hartig.

Held at the University of New South Wales, the NI-ARC finals are designed to encourage development and innovation in the field of robotics. Teams are given a development kit, which includes a control platform and software to run the robot, together with a brief to build a robot around a certain theme. Previous themes have focused on fields such as agriculture, mining, and search and rescue. The 2015 theme is: ‘Transport and Roll-out’ and this year each robot must have the ability to navigate, avoid obstacles and handle objects without any input from a human controller.

Over the last seven months, the CRoC team has taken Murphy from concept to working robot, checking off five milestones to qualify for the NI-ARC finals.


“There were definitely a few challenges,” says CRoC member, Nav R.Ravichandar. “On the software side it was learning LabVIEW, the environment we were required to do our programing in. On the hardware side, it was getting access to a 3D printer.”

With 3D printed elements being looked upon favourably by the NI-ARC judges, the team’s first design was to have Murphy made completely from 3D printed parts.

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t get access to a reliable printer, so we went with a fallback idea and modified last year’s robot,” says fellow cross member, Tom Johnson.

Murphy is fitted with a magazine to transport ‘cargo’, a winch, two motors, various motor controllers and 10 infrared sensors. The primary controller – Murphy’s ‘brain’– controls all these functions and follows a simple set of environmental sequences, such as turning away when its path forward is blocked.

“There’s not much intelligence in it,” Nav says. “The tasks don’t require much intelligence to complete, so rather than programing it in there and creating problems for ourselves, we just said ‘well it doesn’t need it, so we won’t put it in’.”

That said, at the NI-ARC finals Murphy will be navigating itself into a loading bay, collecting goods, navigating to drop off zones and avoiding both static and dynamic obstacles – all on its own.

“Something’s going to go wrong, I know it!” Nav jokes.

Whether the competition goes smoothly or not, the CRoC team’s ultimate goal is to build their own skills.

“At the start we agreed to do this for the learning experience,” Nav says.

“Originally we weren’t intending to compete,” Tom adds. “We were just going to get familiar with it so we could compete next year, but it ended up going quite well so we decided to go for it.”

After the team return from the competition they will continue to work on Curtin Robotics Club projects, such as the Track-and-Avoid Competition, FIRST(R) Robotic Competition(R) and Blubot, and will be on-hand next year to help the next Curtin NI-ARC team.