Learning at the School of Engineering involves much more than attending lectures. Here, three students recount their testing and fulfilling experiences in hands-on engineering design competitions

Tianbo Liu

MPhil, Electronic and Computer Engineering (2017)
International Aerial Robotics Competition 2015 – Asia/Pacific

Tianbo (second left) and his team prepare for action at the International Aerial Robotics Competition.

I entered the School of Engineering as a postgraduate in September 2015 after taking my undergraduate studies in Automation at Harbin Institute of Technology. I was keen to study at HKUST, given the high quality of its engineering research, and to experience the unique East-West culture of Hong Kong.

The focus of my research is estimation and control of aerial robots, which I hope can eventually be applied to industry. In line with these practical aspirations, soon after joining HKUST, I became a member of the University team taking part in the International Aerial Robotics Competition (IARC). This took place at Beihang University in Beijing. It was the first engineering competition I participated in as a postgraduate and we won the first prize!

The annual IARC aims to boost technological creativity by setting challenges related to aerial robotics design and providing a platform for aviation enthusiasts to share their knowledge. The task set for IARC 2015 was to develop totally autonomous flying robots – the first time that interaction between ground and flying robots had been included in an IARC challenge. The contest required a single autonomous aerial robot to herd as many autonomous ground robots as possible across a boundary in 10 minutes.

I was responsible for the overall system integration of our flying robot. The first step was to design and refine all the control algorithms. After that, I had to integrate different modules into the system and undertake the debugging. This was the most difficult part of the preparations. Even if all the modules worked well independently, problems continuously appeared during system integration. We all had to think hard about the causes and solutions. This forced every team member to learn more peripheral knowledge rather than focusing on our own specialties, which was a very fruitful process.

The competition was a wonderful experience, not just because we won an award but because we were able to exchange ideas with fellow competitors who share similar interests. This strengthened my passion for aerial robotics and helped me to appreciate other teams’ work.