HKUST Robotics Team defeats all local rivals and will represent Hong Kong at regional Robocon in Tokyo

By YP cadet Charlotte Fong

Their keys to success include a diverse team, open lines of communication, and the ability to improvise

By YP cadet Charlotte Fong |

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HKUST's Team Fiery Dragon blazed through the local competition and hope to burn regional rivals in Tokyo this Sunday.

The robotics team from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) were crowned the Hong Kong champs after beating 11 teams from six local universities at Robocon HK 2017.

With the win, HKUST’s Team Fiery Dragon earned the right to represent Hong Kong at the ABU Asia-Pacific Robot Contest to be held in Tokyo on Sunday, where they will face the champions from other countries in the region.

With custom-built robots crafted according to strict specifications, teams gain points by shooting discs and making them land on any of the seven raised platforms on the playing field. Five points are given for the platform in the enemy territory, while only one point is given for your own platform and the five neutral ones in the middle.

There is, however, a way to instantly win the game. Named appare!, if a team manages to land a disc on each of the seven platforms and have them stay on at the same time, they automatically win the match. Though this strategy is riskier than going straight for more points, the potential for an automatic win forced Team Fiery Dragon to make some tough decisions during their matches.

“We thought long and hard for a strategy that would suit our robot and lead us to victory,” team captain Jonathan Liu Chi-yan revealed. “We also changed our game plan after seeing what the other teams did in the test run.”

Their toughest rival in the finals, held on June 18, was Team Red Shadow from Hong Kong Polytechnic University, who went for appare! every time. To counter this, HKUST landed a lot of discs on their own platform to try to completely block it off, while still managing to score points. This clever strategy paid off, though not everything went according to plan.

The robot must toss the foam discs quickly and precisely.
Photo: HKUST

“In the finals against PolyU, we had a major technical problem,” Liu said. “One of our cables broke, and the backup one wasn’t long enough. Our shooting speed was drastically decreased”.

Despite the malfunction, Fiery Dragon came out on top. Team mentor Professor Tim Woo Kam-tim attributes their success to good communication and the ability to adapt.

“I always encourage them to come up with their own ideas and experiment creatively, as they all have different styles and paths,” said Woo. “We also have many students from different cultural backgrounds on the team, which often brings different perspectives and useful insights to problem-solving”.

French-Indian student and the team’s designated robot operator Thomas Rohit Narayana Swamy agreed. He said that sometimes not understanding Cantonese was actually an advantage.

“When I got violation calls, I’d act confused and they would let it slide,” he laughed.

Swamy also enjoys learning about local language and culture from his teammates. “I would be forced to do pushups by the team advisers every time I said a swear word in Cantonese,” he recalled.

Apart from many international students, Fiery Dragon also actively recruited female members, who comprise more than a third of the team. Team member Isabella Liu Sin-tai wants to dispel any stereotypes about gender differences in science ability.

“People think that guys are naturally more gifted in maths and engineering, but girls can do the same or even better if they have the same level of passion towards it,” she said.

With the Tokyo tournament fast approaching, the team is busy tweaking their design to take on stronger opponents.

“Things seldom go exactly according to plan, but we will pull through by communicating with each other and improvising,” said captain Liu.

Edited by Jamie Lam