Autonomous robots

Want to build robots? In your first-year you'll develop the skills you need to make a robot and work as a team to compete in the Autonomous Vehicle Challenge.

Photo by Fairfax media.

Get hands-on experience

Many Engineering students want to get ‘hands-on’ with their coursework as quickly as possible—after all, they’re often practical people who like to learn through doing. So when Victoria University’s first-year Engineering students discover they’ll be building an autonomous vehicle during their first trimester, most can’t believe their luck.

Autonomous Vehicle Challenge

“The first part of Engineering 101 gives students a general introduction to engineering practice, and covers the basics of software, hardware and network systems,” says Dr Stuart Marshall, head of the School of Engineering and Computer Science.

“Halfway through the first trimester, we form them into teams so they can apply this knowledge to complete a project—the Autonomous Vehicle Challenge—which includes all aspects of these technologies.”

Build a vehicle and survive the maze

Dr Marshall says that each team of students must build a vehicle—complete with processing board, motor driver and a network link to communicate its progress back to a central computer—which can navigate its way through four quadrants of a maze, each more difficult than the last.

Students fit sensors to their hand-sized vehicles to keep them on the right path, and away from walls and other obstacles.

New challenges every year

“We change the maze every year, just to keep things interesting,” says Dr Marshall. “This year, we’ve added an archway with an automated door that opens and closes.

Students now have the added challenge of having to get the timing right in order to pass their vehicles through the archway unobstructed.”

Put to the test

At the end of the first trimester, vehicles are put to the test. Teams must race their vehicle against the clock while attempting to complete all four quadrants.

The top performing vehicles take part in a final, more informal, challenge, where they compete for bragging rights rather than credits.

Get thrown in the deep end

“You could say that we’re throwing students in the deep end,” says Dr Marshall.

“But the project not only provides an effective way for students to engage in the many aspects of engineering, it also gives them a tangible way of learning how to problem solve. And, they seem to really enjoy it!”

Develop practical skills

Dr Marshall says that in addition to team work, each student has to write an individual report, reflecting on what worked and what didn’t work during the process.

“Students obviously develop practical skills while they’re building their vehicles, but they’re also learning soft skills such as report writing, time management, and how to work as part of a team.”

Get involved in the national student competition

Some previous Engineering 101 students have cited their experience with the Autonomous Vehicle Challenge as the event that got them interested in the National Instruments Autonomous Robotics Competition—a student robotics competition designed to encourage development and innovation in the field of robotics.

2015 results

Our Victoria team place third overall and won the best design award.

Compete with the top universities in Australasia

Each year, student teams from Australasia’s top universities compete in a live competition for cash prizes. Undergraduate and postgraduate students from Victoria’s School of Engineering and Computer Science took out first prize in 2013, and won the Best Design Award in 2014.