University of Regina robotics team headed to Russia for international competition

By Krista Baliko Posted: June 24, 2019 1:42 p.m.

Karim Ait-Allaoua and Danish Hasan pose with the robot they are designing and programming in their bid to win big at the 45th WorldSkills Competition in Russia
Karim Ait-Allaoua and Danish Hasan pose with the robot they are designing and programming in their bid to win big at the 45th WorldSkills Competition in Russia Photo: U of R Photography

Businesses use automation to be more efficient and to cut costs, and they are always on the lookout for new ways to do both. Now a University of Regina robotics team is developing an effective and sleek-looking robot for use in warehouses and factories that they hope will turn heads at an upcoming international competition in Russia.

Danish Hasan and Karim Ait-Allaoua, two undergraduate engineering students at the University of Regina, along with University of British Columbia student Herman Muller, make up UofRobotics, the Canadian team that will compete at the 45th WorldSkills Competition in Kazan, Russia at the end of August.

Held every two years, the international skills competition attracts more than 1,600 competitors from more than 60 countries. The young competitors can participate in 56 areas across different industries - from joinery to floristry to hairdressing. Mobile robotics is the skill area in which the University of Regina team is competing.

"To move on to the international event, we first had to win a city-wide competition in Regina, then finish first at provincials," says Hasan, who adds at the trio first met in high school where their love of robotics brought them together.

At nationals in Edmonton, the competing teams had to construct a pipeline, then figure out how to program the robot to pick up ball bearings and have them flow through the pipeline and into a refinery. UofRobotics placed first, then had to travel to Halifax to face off against the second-place Ontario team. The University of Regina team won in Halifax and earned the right to represent Canada on the international stage.

"The great part about the challenge we took on in Halifax is that it's the same one we will face in Russia," explains Hasan. "The problem is complex and involves automating workplaces. The robot would be installed in a place like an Amazon warehouse, with the goal to design a robot that would pick up pallets, deliver cargo onto the pallets, then deliver those pallets to the correct workstations."

Hasan says their team designed and constructed a system that includes a forklift at the back of the robot, a grabber at the front, and a pipeline in the middle.

"We designed it so the grabber picks up a ball, then drops it into the pipeline which then delivers the ball onto the pallet. And because it's autonomous, our robot uses barcodes that are actually computer codes, to tell it where to go."

Hasan says moving the robot is the tricky part of the challenge because the factory layouts the robot will have to maneuver are all different. To add to the complexity, Hasan says the bot must deliver all of its cargo in under 10 minutes.

"At the international competition there are eight different courses, two of which are completely unknown. We will compete for four days, and take on two courses per day."

Now the team is working on writing code and, using a 3D printer to create most of the robot's parts, building a better robot.

"We are trying to build the best robot and get the best training as possible so we are able to knock out teams from China and Korea who are well funded."

That's why the team is looking for more financial support.

"We are heading to Toronto at the end of June to train with a company that both builds tiny robots and also educates people about them. More funding would help pay for our expenses in Toronto. It would also allow us to upgrade our building materials and enclose all of our technologies because we want our robot to not only work well, but to also look slick," says Hasan, who also explains that at the worlds competition the robots must look sellable.

Hasan says the team is working hard and is completely focused on the competition because they want to make it to the podium. Something Hasan knows they can achieve.

"In high school we worked on robots for fun. And we weren't the most knowledgeable or experienced with robotics. But now we've progressed to the point that we are the team that will represent Canada," says Hasan.

"We know now that we have the ability to win at the international level, and that is very gratifying."

UofRobotics is currently being supported by the University of Regina, the University of Regina Students' Union, the University of Regina Engineering Student Society, the University of Regina's Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the Saskatchewan Research Council, and DOT Technology Corp.


U of R students moving us one step closer to surviving on Mars

Mainly for women