LAST TWO decades have seen a tremendous activity in the field of robotics across the world. A large number of robot contests are held annually throughout the world. The primary reason for the importance, the robotics field has attained, is its multidisciplinary subjectivity. The design and manufacturing of robots attracts engineers from various backgrounds and is therefore getting accepted faster. For example; the major fields that design and manufacturing of robots encompass are mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science and a specific subfield of artificial intelligence.
In order to promote the students engineering skills as well as the robotics sector in Pakistan, the Department of Mechatronics Engineering organizes every year the National Engineering Robotics Contest (NERC). This annual feature provides a great learning to the participating teams. It also offers a common environment for the integration and evaluation of various mechanical and electronics designs, control and path planning algorithms and agent architectures. Over the years, NERC has grown increasingly popular among students and university engineering departments across the country.
College of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering (EandME) is one of the leading constituent colleges of NUST. The Department of Mechatronics at NUST, College of EandME is organizing this event for the last 10 years. The first contest was held in 2003-04 as as “Fire Fighting Robot Contest (FFRC)”. Only 15 teams (all from NUST, College of EandME) participated. In the year 2005-2006, the contest was organized, in collaboration with STEM Careers Programme (HEC). Its theme was similar to previous years with slight modifications. The competition was a huge success. In NERC 2006, the theme was changed, and instead of extinguishing candles, the robot had to pot tennis balls into the goal posts of similar heights.
In the year 2007, the 5th competition of the robotic series was organized in the NUST, College of EandME in October 2007.
Next year, the theme for this competition was to “pot the tennis balls in the goal posts of different heights” while in 2008 the contest took place from 8th to 11th of July at the NUST, College of EandME.
In the year 2010, 120 teams took part in this mega event from 37 institutes across Pakistan. The event took place from 7th to 10th July at the NUST, College of EandME. The contest consisted of two categories i.e. Indigenous and Modular. Similarly, the theme of 2011 of this years contest was to pick up colored blocks from different locations and place them correctly in slots of their respective color. A total of 130 teams from 36 institutes of the country took part in the contest.
This years theme (NERC – 2013)
The theme of this years NERC – 2013 is to come up with autonomous robots that are capable of navigating and searching their way inside a maze, locating four different colored boxes and placing balls of respective colors in them, in the pre-specified order as determined by the colored stripes at the start of the race. The robot should be able to search a maze for colored boxes and place balls in them according to pre-specified order. Each maze ends up to the green zone which is the only pathway to pot the golden ball. The robot will only be allowed to access the green zone after it has potted all the balls in the appropriate order in the required colored boxes.
The green ball has to be potted in the green box, yellow ball in the yellow box, the black ball in the black box, and then finally the golden ball in the golden box. A penalty will be imposed on a team, if a robot pots the yellow ball in the black box or vice versa. In all such cases points will be deducted. The team which completes the required path first and scores more points will be declared as winner. The qualifying teams will compete against each other in knockout format. There are two categories under which contestants will be evaluated: Indigenous Robot category, and Modular Robot Category.
Participants of the contest are foresee comparatively a good response from the national institutions. They are of the view that the exercise of designing robots this way matures students to take on more rigorous engineering challenges especially in robotics. Contests like these, therefore, encourage and motivate students to improve their technical skills and, in turn help realize a better future of Pakistan in terms of technical human resource.