Moving robot with coloured ‘building blocks’ and drone. (Photo: Mikal Schlosser)

Robot competition promotes international research

Friday 21 Jan 22


Tobias Stenbock Andersen
Research Assistant
DTU Electro


DTU has participated in the MBZIRC competition twice in the past—in 2017 and 2020. Both times they have won silver in one of the competition’s challenges, and in 2020 they were one of the specially invited participants.

Participation in international robotics competition encourages researchers to develop new and sought-after robotic technology for rescue operations, among other things. 

The international robotics competition MBZIRC—Mohamed Bin Zayed International Robotics Challenge—will next be held in 2023, but preparations are already underway at the world’s leading universities. Only the best slip through the eye of the needle and are allowed to participate in the competition which requires new innovative solutions from the research community. The competition’s tasks have been selected to align with challenges that are relevant for robots to solve in the future. 

“The upcoming competition will take place over a 10 km2 sea area where we will have to locate a boat using drones and subsequently move an object from this boat to another. The task is related to monitoring in connection with illegal fishery, as well as being relevant for rescue operations at sea,” says Tobias Stenbock Andersen—one of the researchers behind DTU Electrical Engineering’s preparations for the competition.
Previous competitions have included tasks such as firefighting and interventions against drones that can be disruptive to air traffic. The competition has subsequently resulted in a large number of publications in scientific journals by the participants of the competition. Here, their solutions to the challenges are described in detail, which subsequently can be applied and further developed by others. This makes the competition an important driver of research in those areas where there are still unresolved tasks, says Tobias Stenbock Andersen.

Fast and efficient installation of robots
Knowledge and insight from previous participation in competition has also spawned a new research project at DTU. It addresses an issue that manufacturers of robots and other automated services need help solving. 

“Suppliers of robots for use in, for example, industrial companies sometimes find that they need several visits from their technical expert before their robots works optimally, in the new environment. This is a scenario we have experience with from the competition, since new challenges often appear and need to be solved shortly before the start of the competition. We aim to use the project to formalize this knowledge to the benefit of the companies,” says Tobias Stenbock Andersen.

At the last international competition, for example, a ramp was installed on the track to be navigated by a moving robot. This is a big new challenge to suddenly face and one which the robot was not originally programmed for.

“In the same way, a robot must be able to quickly adapt to the specific circumstances of the customer. We’re therefore researching a modular structure of robots that makes it simpler to identify and thereby correct the problems that are sure to crop up when the robot is installed in a company’s production line, for example, where it has to work with items or in conditions that differ slightly from the robot’s standard programming,” says Tobias Stenbock Andersen.

Three major challenges to be solved
Concurrently, Tobias Stenbock Andersen is helping with the preparations for the University’s participation in the MBZIRC competition in 2023. In particular, there are three major challenges that need to be addressed. Firstly, GPS is banned in the competition area, so the localization of drones and boats must be solved in a different way. Secondly, solutions need to be developed so that the drones can grab things moving on a rocking boat—just as a robot with a robotic arm needs to be programmed to be able to stand on a boat tilting up and down and at the same time grab hold of something on another boat that is also moving. 

Currently, Tobias Stenbock Andersen does not have any suggestions for solutions, but in the months ahead he expects to identify the possibilities—among other things with contributions from students.

“There’s a need for a multidisciplinary effort involving expertise in automation, electronics, mechanics, and software. I think a lot of students want to contribute to this project, so right now I’m quite confident,” concludes Tobias Stenbock Andersen.