Join us for the 11th Annual Robot Race Day on 1 June 2024!
Welcome to the Robot Car Race Day pages! This annual race is hosted by the University of Pretoria's Department of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering under the auspices of the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and IT. The race involves Microcontroller-based Autonomous Robotic Vehicles (MARVs) built by teams of third-year students who compete against one another to complete our track in the shortest possible time.
The annual EBIT Robot Race was initiated in 2013 as an attempt to create an engaging, enjoyable practical project for the third-year microcontrollers module as students really struggled with the module. The intent was to excite students about the learning material by creating a formal opportunity to play and explore. Inviting spectators to attend the Robot Race, which was just the final practical assessment in the microcontrollers module, was actually a spur-of-the-moment decision. We thought that parents, siblings, friends and family would be interested to see what the students were doing in their engineering class.
The first event was presented in the foyer of the Engineering 3 building on the main campus of the University of Pretoria and Prof Tania Hanekom (the lecturer for the microcontrollers module) and Mr Willem van Jaarsveld (the laboratory instructor for the module) painted the floor of the building to even out the colour and then stuck isolation tape for tracks on the painted floor. It took quite a bit of acetone to clean the floor afterwards! Spectators could watch the race from the walking bridges inside the building. The 2014 race was also presented in Engineering 3, this time with the coloured tracks that became a hallmark of the event, but it was clear that the number of spectators outgrew the venue and the event was moved to the Amphitheatre from 2015 onwards. We never expected the event to become such a popular one among students and the public.
Education in action
The project also extended to other modules in the EEC degree programs over the years creating horizontal and vertical integration of learning content in the programs. The beginnings of the navigation system is introduced in the second year digital electronics module and the sensor design for the robot in the analog electronics module that runs concurrently with the microcontrollers module in the first semester of the third year. The robot forms the core of the design modules that are presented in the second half of the third year to teach proper systems engineering principles. Elements of the robot are also used as a platform for studying sophisticated control systems in the downstream Control Systems module. In 2020 we also started a Robot School community engagement project that is inspired by the Robot Race. This team effort, which is managed by some of our postgraduate students, involves the second-year students in the Faculty as well as some of the final years who need to complete a work-integrated learning period.
This unique, annual engineering-education-in-action event is not to be missed by anyone with a keen interest in the future of our South African engineering industry and the bright young talent that is graduating from our engineering programs at Tuks.
A partnership with industry
Right from the start the engineering industry pledged their involvement and several prizes were sponsored. Without industry support, it would not have been possible to host the event for a decade this year. However, support extends far beyond prizes for the event since a number of our industry partners also fund resources that make learning accessible to all our students, during normal times, but especially during a global crisis. Many of our students simply don't have the means to invest in the resources that industry provides generously and consistently. The investment made in our Department's students by our industry partners have contributed to us being the number-one ranked Department of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering in the country today.