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Department of Engineering

Cambridge team take top prize in international robotics competition

Cambridge team take top prize in international robotics competition

A student team have won first prize in an international robotics competition with a robotic arm they developed and programmed themselves.

The tasks varied in difficulty from picking up cutlery from a draw and setting the table, to more complicated tasks such as using a hammer, and using vision to pick up a straw from a container and place it accurately into a plastic cup.

PhD student Josie Hughes

Cambridge PhD student Josie Hughes and fourth year students Kieran Gilday and Michael Cheah are from the Department’s Biologically Inspired Robotics Lab, led by Dr Fumiya Iida.

Together they successfully completed 10 challenges as part of the Robotic Grasping and Manipulation Competition organised by the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society in Vancouver, Canada.

These included using the robot to pour water; pick up a straw and drop it into a cup; hold a hammer to hit nails; and (as shown in the video) lift and place puzzle pieces on a rack.  

The challenge required the team to complete all tasks autonomously with their robotic manipulation platform – CambridgeARM. They had 120 minutes to gain as many points as possible, before emerging triumphant as the overall winners, beating off competition from the USA, China, and Japan.

The team took home $3,000 and a ReFlex 1 Gripper – a robotic hand featuring modular fingers, five degrees of freedom, three compliant and under-actuated fingers, a compliant palm, USB communication, and a ROS package that allows control of the robotic hand.

Josie said: “The tasks were determined prior to the competition to allow us to develop the setup. On arrival, we had two days to reassemble the robot and tailor it to the specific items given.  

“The tasks varied in difficulty from picking up cutlery from a draw and setting the table, to more complicated tasks such as using a hammer, and using vision to pick up a straw from a container and place it accurately into a plastic cup." 

She added: “It was an incredible opportunity to go to Vancouver and meet all the other teams and we had a great time at the competition. We had no expectations of winning, as many of the other teams were far more experienced, but we found out that we won by around 20 points. We are now hoping to take part in the Amazon Robotics Challenge.”

Dr Iida, Lecturer in Mechatronics, said: “We started this project as a two-month undergrad student job in the summer. We certainly did not expect it would lead to such considerable success, impact, and honour. This is an excellent showcase of what Cambridge students are capable of – even with such limited time and resources. I hope that this success will be a step forward to the unsolved grand challenge of dexterous robotic manipulation.”

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