Tuesday, June 9, 2015 | 5:54 p.m.
UNLV made a strong showing at the world’s most advanced robotics competition over the weekend.
Unmanned systems professor Paul Oh and his team of 15 UNLV engineering students secured eighth place in the DARPA Robotics Challenge, held in Pomona, Calif.
The competition pitted 25 teams from around the world against each other in a “robot Olympics” designed to see which could best complete tasks like opening doors, turning valves and driving cars.
First place went to a team from South Korea headed by Oh’s cousin, second place went to a team from Pensacola, Fla., and third went to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
DARPA, an agency of the Department of Defense tasked with developing technology for the military, awarded $3.5 million in prizes to the top teams to continue their research into robots capable of performing human tasks.
While UNLV didn’t place in the top three, Oh said it sends a strong message to the world that the university is a serious contender in science and technology research, especially since this was UNLV’s first time in the contest.
“To be in the top 10 given that we had less than six months to prepare, I think is a huge accomplishment,” he said.
As they predicted before the competition, the team’s robot — called "Metal Rebel" — did better than any other robot in the driving portion of the competition. The robot was able to complete the course in under 60 seconds, while some teams took several minutes.
“I think our strategy definitely showed it’s possible to drive as fast as humans,” Oh said.
But when it came to using a power tool to drill through a wall, the robot tripped up. Oh said that if they had had a couple more weeks to prepare, the team could have done better.
They scored 6 out of 8 points, behind a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology but ahead of teams from Houston and Tokyo.
A video compilation of robots tipping over during the competition went viral a couple of days ago, but don’t worry. Metal Rebel wasn’t one of them.
“We didn’t have that problem,” laughed Oh.