Malayan Pantheras achieve a first for Malaysia at Cambridge robotics contest


PETALING JAYA: Earlier this year, 11 youngsters made our country proud by being the first Malaysian team to compete at the Pi Wars competition at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

The tough competition saw the Malayan Pantheras team placing 23rd out of 29 teams in their age category.

This made for a respectable debut as they beat a few UK-based teams despite experiencing some trouble due to their robot’s wires becoming loose during the long journey there.

The Raspberry Pi Robotics Challenge, which started in 2014, is a non-destructive, challenge-based robotics competition powered by the Raspberry Pi microcomputer.

A total of 70 teams from all around the world, such as the United States, Turkey, Hong Kong and England, developed robots to take on seven unique challenges over the course of two days at the University of Cambridge in April this year.

The Malaysian youths hailed from SK Taman Tun Dr Ismail (1), SK Bukit Damansara (SKBD), and SMK Damansara Utama.

Iqmilhaqeem Fakhrurazi Ismail was the sole Form 4 participant, while the Year Six students in the team were Shaista Ayesha Muhd Zairul Adzuar, Muhamad Syakeel Muhamad Syahril, Ershad Falah Halid, Muhamad Elixir Mohd Azrul, Muhammad Elijaz Mohd Azrul, Prashand Vardhanan, Aloysius James Ratnasingam, Ali Muiz Ali Omar and Siddarth Vishal Saravanan. Sierra Julia Prakash was the youngest member, from Year 4.

The bright youngsters were trained by Seven Sense project specialist Jonathan Wong Chuo Cheng, and they were accompanied to the competition by several parents and SKTTDI (1) Assistant Principal (Administration and Curriculum) Serimashayu Abdul Majid.

And the Malayan Pantheras name, how did that come about?

“We took it off the scientific name of the Malayan Tiger, which is Panthera tigris jacksoni, so we called ourselves Malayan Pantheras!” said Aloysius.

When asked about their experience in the competition, the students were full of praise for each other’s efforts towards making the final prototype of their robot car a reality.

The first few months were all about trial and error, said Iqmil, as they learnt more about coding and languages such as Python.

Closer to the competition, the team sharpened their focus and coordinated among themselves to work on the robot, as well as write blog posts and film video-logs charting their progress, all while juggling the demands of their studies and co-curricular activities.

Asked about the most memorable part of the competition, Iqmil said it was the “hilarious 'Eye of the Tiger' moment" with Ershad where they felt super-focused while shooting plastic funfair ducks with their robot.

As for Ershad, he enjoyed the prize-giving ceremony,

"It felt nice, because no matter if you win or not, everyone will cheer and clap for you and recognise your talent," he said, adding that the team brought along the Malaysian flag to bring recognition to their homeland.

For Shaista, it was the challenges faced together that she found most memorable.

“The robot did not move on the golf track (challenge) and it kept getting stuck in the turf. We ran out of power and it died, and we had to fix it while people were shouting over each other!” she laughed.

The team learnt many new lessons along the way.

“There was a challenge where the robot had to fight each other by popping the other robot’s balloon. We learnt tons of stuff from other team's robots - one made their needle do a stabbing motion with motors to make it easier to pop balloons, so we might use that idea for our robot the next time,” said Shaista.

Most of all, they were grateful to their parents who cheered them on all the way, with Aloysius naming their emotional support as one of “the most important things”.

“They even helped us during the competition such as buying batteries!” said the aspiring astronaut.

Asked if they would enter the competition again, many in the team were optimistic.

‘Of course. I’ve got the bug now,” said Aloysius, grinning.

Most of all, the experience has spurred them to work towards their own life goals, such as further fuelling Sierra’s ambition to be an engineer: “I want to make robots to help out with chores at home!”

The next Pi Wars will take place from March 30 to March 31, 2019.

Robotics enthusiasts can check out https://piwars.org/ for more information.