I can not recall any interest in robotics during my school time, and even until I graduated from the university with a control engineering degree. It was not until I attended a workshop at Bangkok that I started to gain interest in robotics. That was in May 2000. It was the “Regional Workshop on Industrial Applications of Control Technology: Mechatronics” conducted at the Thai-French Innovation Center, Bangkok, Thailand. During the workshop, I had the opportunity to see some robotic projects and visited some of their mechatronic facilities. Though brief, they were interesting exposures for me. In addition, the Indonesian participant in the workshop shared his experience in robotic projects. With his active participation in international robotic competitions, he has developed relationship and collaboration with researchers from Japan. Something that I would dream for. Few months later, in Sep 2000, I saw an exhibition of a Singapore university at the 1st APEC Youth Camp held at Ulsan, Korea. The Singapore university exhibited a student project on obstacle avoidance robot. That was interesting and more importantly seem doable for us. With these exposures, I initiated a project in Obstacle Avoidance Vehicle in the following year. It was a modification to a cheap remote control car and wasn’t really close to a ‘robot’. Nevertheless, an important start. I still remember the student vividly. Lee Kin Foo is the first student who worked on my robotic project. It was with Kin Foo that I learned to use the Eagle PCB Layout Editor and the Microchip PIC microcontroller.
One day in January 2003, I was called to the Principal’s office. Cikgu Nazamshah, the Principal at that time, passed me two Takraw balls and asked if I would like to participate in the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU) Robot Contest (Robocon). Could this be a dream come true? Participation in an international (well, regional to be more specific) robotic competition?! I was informed that the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU) strongly encouraged Brunei to participate in its annual robot contest (Robocon), and that the balls reached MKJB, a college, after other local higher institutions declined to participate. I knew we only had about six months to work on it, from scratch. However, it was an opportunity that I didn’t want to miss. Without appropriate facility and without relevant knowledge and experience, apart from the Obstacle Avoidance Vehicle, we then had to make robots that would stand at 3 metres high. I picked my army and kicked start the project. Seven men, months of sleepless nights, we ventured into the Robocon! We shivered when we saw the others’ robots in the given demo CD. We were uncertain if we would make it to the competition as we were searching for parts and ideas, while others were creating and improving their robots. However, we persisted. It was this persistence that made us to carry Brunei’s flag, for the first time, in an international robotic competition.
Since then robotic enthusiasts at MKJB, continued to work on robotic projects, as well as other engineering projects. Over the years in MKJB, Jemee (Norjemee Jenek) had became my best team mate after Terry (Terry Jayasuriya) moved to Brunei Shell Petroleum Company Sdn Bhd. As I try to learn more on robotics, my interest in it also grows. MKJB has represented Brunei in ABU Robocon for five consecutive years, and was unbeatable in Robocon locally. I participated, with my teams, in Robocon 2003, 2005 and 2006. I missed Robocon 2004 as I was at UK doing MSc. I joined UBD in March 2007. I started to plan for the Robocon project in UBD. I was then back to the situation that I was in five years ago. I had to build up the resources (space, facilities) from scratch and identify the team. After two years in UBD, I managed to start up robotics in the Faculty of Science (FOS) and set up a simple robotic lab. With a few students, we worked on Robocon and a few other robotic projects.
The changing theme of Robocon each year introduces new challenges each year. Overcoming new challenges is a way to make progress. Having to work in conformation to the preset requirements/rules, rather than setting own requirements to work on, is what makes Robocon a tough challenge. Apart from the technical challenges, financial constraint is an inherent problem in every year. While in MJKB, I had support from the school, colleagues as well as the companies. While in UBD, I had support from the bursar office in expediting procurement of resources. While we require more fund than we could obtain, the supports from the various parties had allowed me to continue working on Robocon for quite a few years. Perhaps the biggest challenge is there is no place to get electronic and robotic parts in Brunei. We would have to order from overseas and the process is time consuming and expensive.
In UBD, we worked for the 2009 Robocon and won the local competition to represent the country in the Asia-Pacific event in Japan. However, due to the H1N1 pandemic, we were not able to the attend the event. The team continued to work in 2010. For the first time a university in Brunei participated in the Asia-Pacific Robocon held in Cairo, Egypt. It was an eye opening and rewarding exposure for the students. I took a leave from UBD to do my PhD in 2010. My colleague Chong (Chong Kim Onn) continued to lead the Robocon and robotic team. They made significant advance in the robots and represented the country in ABU Robocon in 2011 and 2012.
While we enjoyed the experiences, Robocon demands more technical skills, resources, time and dedicated team members than we can have in our current environment. I have to move on with other responsibilities after returning from my PhD after my last participation in Robocon in 2010.
The Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union Robot Contest (ABU Robocon)
Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU) Robocon is an annual robot contest starting from 2002, just for university/college students in the Asia-Pacific region. Under a common set of rules, participants will compete with their peers in other countries to create robots using their creative and technological abilities in an open competition. This contest aims to create friendship among young people with similar interests who will lead their countries in the 21st Century, as well as help advance engineering and broadcasting technologies in the region. This event will be broadcast in participating countries through an ABU member broadcaster. In Brunei Darussalam, Radio Television Brunei is a member broadcaster in ABU.
The changing theme of Robocon each year introduces new challenges each year. Overcoming new challenges is a way to make progress. Having to work in conformation to the preset requirements/rules, rather than setting own requirements to work on, is what makes Robocon a tough challenge.
ABU Robocon 2002: “Reach for the top of Mt. Fuji”
31 Aug 2002 | Tokyo, Japan
This was the first ABU Robocon. RTB attended the event, however there was no Brunei participation.
ABU Robocon 2003: “Takraw Space Conqueror”
24 Aug 2003 | Bangkok, Thailand
This is the year we first learned about the ABU Robocon when the Science, Technology and Environment Partnership (STEP) Center in the Ministry of Education approached MKJB to solicit Brunei participation. This was the first time Brunei participated in Robocon. I supervised the team with the help from Jemee.
Sarimah from STEP center and Iskandar from OGDC regularly visited us and brought us food and drink. The deputy principal, Affandy, was supportive and appeared often in our workshop at night. Terry visited us occasionally. Many friends were supportive and hoping for us to be able to deliver the robots. We have also received coverage by the ABU from Japan. They recorded the team at work as well as the daily life of one of the members, Khalid.
We called our team SAMOT. A combination of SAMut (ants) and robOT, indicating our awareness of being small and calling for hardwork. The team struggled to build the robots without appropriate knowledge, skills and facilities. Imagine driving a 25kg machine with 3V motors. Well, that was how we started.
This year, we were the only participating team from Brunei, and so SAMOT team from MKJB automatically represented the country. Despite being a really tough task, the SAMOT team gave their full commitment to deliver the robots. These robots had to pass stringent tests before they were allowed to play on the field. At Bangkok, Brunei drawn to play against Malaysia (represented by Univesiti Teknologi Malaysia) and Korea (represented by Chungnam National University). Both teams were much stronger than us, and practically beaten us. However, due to an accidental contact by the manual operator of the Korean team with our manual robot, the Korean team was disqualified and Brunei declared winner in this match. It wasn’t how we wanted to win a match.
ABU Robocon 2004: “Reunion of Separated Lovers, ‘Gyeonwoo and Jiknyeo'”
11 Sep 2004 | Seoul, Korea
The second year MKJB represented Brunei at ABU Robocon. Another local institution, Sultan Saiful Rijal Technical College (or Maktab Teknik Sultan Saiful Rijal MTSSR) expressed interest in participating and an informal local competition (or selection) was held. MKJB’s robots appeared more convincing to the judges and was selected to represent Brunei at Seoul. This year, SAMOT team from MKJB played against Chungnam National University of Korea (again!) and Academic Center for Education Culture and Research of Iran. Despite having builded much better robots than the previous year, the opponent teams proved to be much stronger than us. We have a great deal to improve. I did not supervise the SAMOT team in 2004. SAMOT 2004 was supervised by Norjemee.
ABU Robocon 2005: “Climb on the Great Wall, Light the holy fire”
27 Aug 2005 | Beijing, China
This year saw the most rewarding year for the SAMOT team. SAMOT team again defeated the team from MTSSR in a well organized local competition held at the auditorium of MTSSR. In the local competition, half game field was set up and each competing team complete the game independently. The higher scorer was declared winner. With extra-ordinary committment and determination from this year’s team members, SAMOT’s robots had seen great improvement. Five autonomous robots, fitted within an area of 1x1m, and one manual robot were builded. The team was determined to win in Beijing. Well. When we drawn to play against Vietnam and China in the preliminary round, we knew we were given tough challenge again. Vietnam was a two times champion in Robocon. Vietnam was represented by Hanoi University of Technology. China was represented by University of Scinece & Technology Beijing (and another team) which ended as 1st runner up in Robocon 2005. Despite losing to both teams, SAMOT had shown its great potential and was awarded the Toyota Award. Jemee and myself supervised the team in this year.
ABU Robocon 2006: “Building the World’s Tallest Twin Tower”
10 Sep 2006 | Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Another year SAMOT team represented Brunei at ABU Robocon after defeating its local opponent from MTSSR. This is the first year when a full game field was build for the local competition. At the local competition, the SAMOT team achieved SIAP in 1 minute 27 seconds! After three years of experience, SAMOT’s robots have became stable and reliable. Various technical problems were resolved. Mechanical aspect remained our major weakness as the SAMOT team had been comprised of members from the Department of Electrical and Instrumentation Engineering. At Kuala Lumpur, SAMOT was again tested with tough matches in the preliminary round. Brunei drawn to play against Multimedia University of Malaysia and Xi’an Jiaotong University of China. We lost both matches. Xi’an Jiaotong University later emerged as the 2nd runner up, while Multimedia University received the Best Engineering Award. Further hard works on our side are definitely needed to beat teams from major universities (and higher institutions) around the region.
Jemee was on his study leave this year. Fakhrul was helping me in supervising the team this year. I would say this is another successful year for SAMOT following the 2005. We were able to complete the game with ease, although we did not defeat our opponent teams during the regional contest. Our manual robot actually performed better than that of the Malaysian team, however they had better autonomous robots.
ABU Robocon 2007: “Halong Bay Discovery”
26 Aug 2007 | Hanoi, Vietnam
There was no local competition in 2007. SAMOT represented Brunei in ABU Robocon for 5th consecutive year. At Hanoi, SAMOT played against Kanazawa Institute of Technology of Japan and University of Peradeniya from Sri Lanka in the preliminary round. This year saw Brunei’s first winning match in ABU Robocon. SAMOT team defeated the team from Sri Lanka. However, they lost to the Japan team. The Japan team later received the Best Engineering Award. I have moved to UBD in this year and did not supervise the team. Jemee was the supervisor in this year.
ABU Robocon 2008: “Govinda”
31 Aug 2008 | Pune, India
Brunei did not participate. There was no participating team. In this year, I initiated Robocon in UBD at the end of the year. We were preparing for the 2009 contest.
ABU Robocon 2009: “Travel Together for the Victory Drums”
22 Aug 2009 | Tokyo, Japan
Five years back, I started with a reasonably large workshop floor space, basic tools, few great fighters, however without prior experience. Over here in UBD, I started with some experience, however with uncertainty in floor space, facilities and the army. I saw two biggest challenges: space and army; in addition to the inherent financial constrain. I thought with the support from the faculty, I could overcome the problem of facilities. I was not sure if I would have a space to do the project. I was not sure if I could find good fighters.
Did UBD make it to ABU Robocon 2009? Yes, but not …
I managed to put up a team of seven students to kick off with the Robocon project in UBD. Getting ‘fighters’ for Robocon proved to be a challenge in UBD. We started in Dec 2008 during the semester break. Working space was a challenge and I booked the lecture room FSM 2.15/2.16 in the Faculty of Science (FOS) building.
The technical challenge appeared to be a completely new one. It required that the three robots are physically connected – two robots carry one robot in a carriage (‘Kago’). The game field incorporated a ‘hill’ requiring the robots to travel up and down slopes. Balancing the three robots (including one being carried in between) while going up and down slopes posed the greatest difficulty to start with. An idea was finally arrived at and the first prototype was build during this semester break. The team used the lecture room FSM 2.17 to test the line tracing of the first prototype. Towards the end of the semester break, only four students remained in the team. Three of the initial seven students decided to pull out from the highly demanding project. It was partly anticipated. Only ‘fighters’ who wanted to prove themselves better or as good as university students elsewhere can survive the demand of Robocon project.
New semester started in Jan 2009 and we had to move out of the lecture rooms. Having no alternative, we moved into my shared office at the HEP (student affairs) building. We used one vacant cubicle to put our stuff. This became the “Hong’s Robotic Cubicle” in UBD, unofficially. It measures at about 3x3m. The office is probably about 17x8m partitioned into 9 cubicles. The game field required a clear space of 12×12.6m. To test the robots, we used the remaining walking space, where mountain pass and tracks were laid. The walkway outside the office and the benches in front of the ATM machines outside the office had became workshop where the team worked with metal pieces. The team persisted to continue working on the robots.
The two carrier robots were eventually completed and more problems were identified. A redesign was done. The robots were eventually able to travel through the mountain pass, individually. However, when they were connected (by the ‘Kago’) we have not been able to coordinate their speed. Time flies. It was soon the next semester break and fast approaching the anticipated local competition. The two robots were still having problems – mainly mechanical. Added to the challenge, staff in the HEP office were asked to move to another building. We had to move our stuff to the previous UNISSA building. We were concerned of the time lost when every minute was counting. On the other hand, we were delighted to be given a big lab – G.38. This became the “Robotic Lab” in UBD, unofficially. The lab measures around 7x6m capable of accommodating half of the game field. The hard work continued in this ‘new’ robotic lab.
I had received very good support from the bursar office of UBD. While financial resource remained constrained, with the support from the bursar office, I managed to acquire many parts and equipments.
We were not able to fix the problems of the robots when travelling up the slope. Mechanical aspect remained our major weakness. The team could only get through the slope in very few times and had not been able to complete the game within 3 minutes. The local competition was on 13 Jun and two teams were to compete for the opportunity to represent Brunei at ABU Robocon at Tokyo, Japan. We competed with the all time local champion, Jefri Bolkiah College of Engineering (JBCE or MKJB). Robots from both teams were having similar problems – boarding and crossing the mountain pass. At the time the whistle ended the game, our team’s robots were attempting to cross the mountain pass while our opponent’s robots were struggling with boarding task. We were “ahead” of them. Our team won the local competition, merely. In anyway, the team proved themselves winners in UBD, in Brunei.
Like in previous years, the team continued to improve the robots while waiting for the approval from the Ministry to compete in the ABU Robocon at Tokyo, Japan. Rather unfortunate, due to the H1N1 situation, the relevant authority ‘cancelled’ our participation at Tokyo … To the people who made the decision, it was a play safe action. However, it was a big disappointment to the team, who has worked hard days and nights … The team was deprived the opportunity to meet and learn from other teams. It is a deep regret to me that I was not able to do anything to help the team to participate in the contest in Tokyo.
In addition, I have also realised my deficiency. I have not seem to make progress from my starting point in 2003. I am still struggling with the same technical problems. Looking at our defective robots and comparing with the highly capable robots of other teams, I realised I have been doing things seriously wrong. Worse, I do not know how to put things right … This is the worst Robocon year for me.
ABU Robocon 2010: “Robo-Pharaohs Build Pyramids”
22 Sep 2010 | Cairo, Egypt
Another year of struggling in Robocon. I continued to find myself unable to solve mechanical problems in Robocon robots. The UBD Robocon team had shrunk to three men given the discouraging experience in the previous year. We called ourselves SAMOT GenNext in line with the new branding of UBD programmes. This year, there was no other participating team in Brunei and SAMOT GenNext automatically became the representative team of Brunei. Despite that, the team did not let themselves slack. Like all members in the Robocon teams I had supervised, the three men worked hard to make their robots work. However, we were haunted by the similar mechanical problems. The choice of actuators, design of effectors and mechanisms could not work together to deliver the power and stability of the actions we required to perform the tasks of moving and positioning the blocks. While the team eventually completed three robots to play the game, the robots could not complete the game within the three minutes time. In Cairo, SAMOT GenNext played against the Egyypt and Sri Lanka teams. Egypt was too strong for us, whereas we won over the Sri Lanka team. While this was another disappointing year for me, I am happy that the students feel they have learned a lot from the Robocon experience.
I took a break from UBD to do my PhD after the 2010 ABU Robocon.