Magic is how our great-grandparents might have described the idea of robots.
Now that they are becoming more and more a part of our lives, MAGIC is still the word used by an international consortium which is running a competition to find the best robots to do dangerous work for defence forces.
The Multi Autonomous Ground-Robotic International Challenge (MAGIC) is organised by the Defence Science and Technology Organisation in Australia and the Research Development and Engineering Command in the US.
A team led by UWA is one of six international finalists who will compete in Adelaide in November for a US$750,000 prize and opportunities for contracts with the US and Australian departments of defence.
The challenge is to develop the next generation of fully autonomous robots to go on dangerous missions in hostile environments.
Each of the 12 short-listed teams did local trials for defence representatives last month. The UWA team WAMBOT/MAGICian, also has members from Edith Cowan and Flinders universities, Thales Australia (which is also the primary sponsor) and local industry.
Thales provides systems, products and services to defence forces.
Aiden Morgan, one of the WAMBOT team members, is a software architect with Thales, who works on mission-planning systems for helicopters for the Army. He is also a PhD student of Professor Thomas Braunl, who has co-ordinated the project.
Up to 17 students at a time have been involved with the competition, in which autonomous robots were designed, built, programmed and refined.
They had to navigate an obstacle course for which the team had specifications to set up for the judges. "But when the judges arrived, they changed things around and added more and difficult challenges," said A/Professor Adrian Boeing.
The only specifications for the robots were a limit of 40 kilograms and the ability to fit through a 90 centimetre doorway.
What makes the local team so good? "Our overall approach," said A/Professor Boeing. "We take a simple approach so that we never get to the point where things are too complicated to work."
"And we have a great balance of people," said Aiden. "All the teams that have made the final, including us, have industry partners. None of the other Australian teams did."
Professor Braunl said the team would like some more clever students to join it before the finals.
"It's a voluntary program and so people come and go, which can make things a bit difficult," he said. "So we're on the lookout for a few software wizards with some time to spare."
The five other teams in the finals are from the US (three teams), Japan and Turkey.
The WAMBOT team will be required to field at least three robots and accomplish a complex task involving mapping and identification of threats, while demonstrating a high level of autonomy among the robots.
Published in UWA News, 23 August 2010