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Eurobot and Robothon fire up MDX stars' passion for robotics

Operations Director and MSc graduate James Brazier hopes to set up his own robotics business after team lands €2000 prize

Aerial view of a large tabletop with markings and objects on it. Three men in black-and-white stripy shirts stand on one side, and three young men in dark tops stand on another. A small group of onlookers is behind a belt barrier on the far side of the table from the men in the stripy shirtsMDX has hosted the UK finals of international student robotics competition Eurobot, while MDX MSc Robotics graduates excelled in a recent contest at the world's leading smart automation trade show.

James Brazier and Ziad Burhani from MDX Dubai plus coursemates in Team RoboTech X came third overall, and registered the fastest task completion time, at last summer's Robothon during Munich's automatica fair, winning a €2,000 cheque.

The event tasked entrants with using robots to deconstruct and safely dispose of electronic waste - developing an algorithm to solve five manipulation tasks, then demonstrating these on an e-waste object.

"The competition was a great learning experience" says James, whose assignments included developing custom jigs, working on camera calibration, and teaching the MDX Epson VT6 robot point co-ordinates to navigate 3D space. He and Ziad earned special mention for their achievement at MDX Dubai's Graduation ceremony last month.

After Robothon, James extended the challenge. For his final year project relating to e-waste management, he instructed the robot to automatically disassemble an old smoke detector, separating metal from plastic parts - a task that proved " very challenging, bringing together different control systems," he says.

A line of four men, smiling, with the middle two holding a competition prize giant cheque An Operations Director in the UAE with 20 years' manufacturing and engineering experience and an MBA also from MDX Dubai, James decided to return to university in 2020 to enhance his electronics and programming skills, graduating with Distinction last winter.

"The result proves his hard work" says Senior Lecturer in Computer Engineering and Informatics at MDX Dubai Dr Judhi Prasetyo. "I am happy to see James's progress during his study with us, and extremely proud of his achievement".

"I would very much like to start my own Robotics business as I think this is the future, not just in manufacturing but in all walks of life," says James. All his cohort and lecturers were "amazing," he says, adding particular thanks to Dr Judhi "for his help, guidance and technical knowledge - a major influence" and to Ziad, "a fellow student and close friend with whom I worked on many projects".

In Hendon on Thursday 30th March, 18 student teams, from Southampton and Birmingham Universities and Imperial College London gathered in the Quad to vie for a place in the final round of prestigious youth amateur robotics competition Eurobot, held in May in La Roche-sur-Yon. Four years ago, a MDX team won a special prize for innovation in the Grand Finals.

This year's contest is on a tea party theme, and involves programming tabletop robots to compete against other teams to stack "cakes" (in fact multi-coloured discs) with a "cherry" (red foam ball) on top, then "serve" them by dropping them in baskets. Players can steal rivals' disc stacks during the matches. For the denouement, the robots are programmed to change into their party outfits, by altering their colour or appearance, and do a turn by performing an unusual action.

"Eurobot gives students an understanding of the full design process of building an autonomous robot to a specification of an international competition with over 400 teams across Europe," explains MDX Technical Tutor in Engineering and Computer Science, Michael Heeney.

"This year we saw suction cups, designs for grabbing and dragging, stacking and much more - every team brought something different with the same goals".

A large group of students dressed in hoodies or T-shirts and jeans stand in front of a table set up for a robotics competition in the QuadMDX Design Engineering student and Robotics Society committee member Omar Maaouane Veiga, volunteering at the Quad event, said "The day could not have gone better. It was awesome to see so many teams bring up their own robot, each different from the last.

"The teams were friendly and open to talk about the inner workings of their bots, and of course: lots of competition rounds where bots competed in the arena, which was really exciting to experience".

Computer Science student Gheorghe-Florin Hasna, also volunteering and attending his first robotics competition, said: "I have thoroughly enjoyed helping. I believe that participating in such contests provides an excellent opportunity for students to apply knowledge and explore different career paths. It encourages creativity and fosters problem-solving".

Florin says on the strength of this year's experience, he and Omar are determined to qualify and compete in Eurobot 2024.

Michael Heeney agrees, saying the standard of the contest will inspire students wanting to put together a cross-department team, and has high hopes for a flourishing MDX Robotics Society.

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