We recently spoke with Lenka Mudrova and Manolis Chiou, leaders of BARC at the University of Birmingham about the upcoming RoCKIn2015 event. Here's what he had to say about their mission, vision and preparation for the final event!
Hello Lenka and Manolis - thank you for joining us today. To start with, could you give us a bit of background information on your team, its aims and mission?
Team BARC connects students from across different disciplines at the University of Birmingham. We believe undergraduate students strongly benefit from working closely with PhDs, and vice-versa. All our team members are investing their spare time in the club. We are driven by our motto "learning by doing" - we choose interesting projects, such as RoCKIn, and we learn a lot by solving its challenges.
What appeals to you about RoCKIn and how does it complement your research and personal development goals? What about robot competitions more generally?
We think that RoCKIn has two interesting real-world Challenges that we would like to contribute to solving, especially @Home. The Challenge has many interesting research problems, and as we do not always have the expertise, we often have to learn about them. However, this allows us gives us (especially undergraduate students) a fresh perspective on these problems, leading to novel solutions. Additionally, we develop a variety of general skills such as leadership skills, handling critical situations, time management, etc. which are really important for employability.
Have you been involved in robotic competitions before? If so, what were some of the highlights for you?
I - Lenka - was leading a robotic team for 4 years at my previous university. We mainly participated in the Eurobot competition. The most important highlight for me was realising that a robot is not one unit; you cannot focus just on your own research. You must think: how's your part working and affecting others and what will affect you. I like that competitions test robots as one complex unit.
What role do you think competitions have in furthering innovation in robotics?
We think that competitions have a key role in challenging people around the world to solve real-world problems with integrated solutions. However, when the competition ends, it would be good to see increased interest in these solutions.
How are your preparations for RoCKIn2015 going? What are you finding to be the most challenging areas?
We are of course trying to do our best for the competition. We think the most challenging aspect for us is the lack of time rather than the lack of ideas. With this issue and our strong interest in repeatability, we rather focus on making the key components really robust, than having many components which will not work well.
And finally, what do you think the future holds for domestic service robotics?
We strongly believe that in the near future, robots will be used to assist elderly people. It might be the case that tele-operated robots will be used first, but as the population is aging there will be a stronger requirement to have robust, autonomous robots.
Thanks for your time Lenka and Manolis - we're looking forward to seeing you in Lisbon!