Published on July 31, 2007
Having won first prize in the rescue robot league of the global RoboCup competition for the second year running last week, the "Independent" team of students from King Mongkut's University of Technology in Bangkok now want to use their skills to solve real problems.
Speaking after a meeting with Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, team members say they are keen to create robots for actual use but lack backers to provide the huge investment needed. However, their prospects appear brighter after the meeting with Surayud.
"The premier said that our robots should be developed for use against bombs in the southern border provinces," says team member Pinit Khueansuwong.
The other members are Nati Namvong, Thongchai Photsathian, Suchat Junlee and Adisak Duangkaew.
"Now we have a lot of knowledge and experience, so it isn't difficult for us to make other robots. We only need to change or add parts, as well as adapt each one for its particular function, such as bomb detection, collection or destruction, which we think should only take around six months to a year," say the team members.
They estimate it will take about Bt1 million to design and build a robot in Thailand, whereas abroad it would cost Bt10 million just for a basic frame that could move around but do nothing more.
They add that another Bt5 million would be needed for backup and facilities such as transport vehicles if they were to use the robots in real situations.
However, funding for the project remains uncertain. The Siam Cement Group, which sponsored the team's participation in the RoboCup, is still waiting for the go-ahead on the project and a proposal from the team, according to a company official.
Independent will not participate in next year's RoboCup competition in China because they want to give other Thai teams a chance, but say they would be happy to help any team wishing to compete.
"We now want to create robots that can be used to help our country and we hope Ideal will do much better next year," say the members, referring to another team from their university that placed fourth in the rescue robot category.
Pinit, Nati and Thongchai were in charge of developing the robot's software, electronics systems and laser-scan mapping, while Suchat and Adisak developed its mechanical systems.
Adisak was also in charge of guiding the team - dividing and scheduling the work and determining the robot's capabilities.
The team built two identical robots so that they could keep one as a backup.
Thongchai had to rush off to attend classes after the meeting with the prime minister, leaving the other three to chat with this reporter.
While their busy schedule since returning victorious to Thailand has clearly left them tired, they are happy to chat about their achievement.
"It took about six months to complete the robots - January to June. It was a long and continuous process of building and testing up to their completion," says Adisak.
"We upgraded their standard a lot [from last year] to beat other teams, but it was very difficult to come up with ways of making them different. The mobility was much improved, and enabled the robot to manoeuvre round all the obstacles. We also installed a powerful zoom-lens camera, and the robot could automatically form a map [of its surroundings] with the laser scanning system. It was the first time we'd used the system."
"Teamwork" comes the unanimous reply when the five are asked what they think was the reason for their victory.
"When we faced a problem during the competition, everyone offered ideas for discussion and then we choose the quickest and most effective method to solve it. We also had a meeting after every race to discuss and solve problems that had cropped up."
The other members praise Pinit for his expertise as the robot controller, saying 50 per cent of their success came from his ability to get the maximum from the machine's capabilities.
The team found a great way to relax in between the high-pressure rounds at this year's competition in Atlanta - playing football at the Georgia Institute of Technology with the Thais studying there.
"As well as inviting us for a kickabout, they also took good care of us. The moral support was great for our morale."
Competition over, the team members have gone back to their studies.
Their advice to other students: "If you really want to do something, go for it. Don't let worry about problems stop you - solve them as they come up. Grab the chance to do what you want to do if it's offered. Keep trying without getting discouraged and you'll be successful in the end."