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Drone competition can yield 10 PhDs

Published: 12 January 2023

Luleå University of Technology’s robotics team have reached the final in the prestigious worldwide Mohamed Bin Zayed International Robotics Challenge (MBZIRC). Together with the Technical University of Denmark they are competing for 2 million US dollars.

The MBZIRC is a massive worldwide competition, putting the leading robotics researchers against each other to develop solutions to various tasks. In the initial stage of the competition there were 52 teams, now there are only five left, Luleå University of Technology together with the Technical University of Denmark being one of them.

This year’s theme is on drones which can explore and inspect large areas at sea and detect vessels, without the use of a GPS-system, this in order to solve the problem of illegal fishing and human trafficking. In the finale the teams should make their drones, by the press of one button, survey the sea for vessels, detect and collect objects from the ships and carry them to an unmanned surface vehicle (USV).

– This research area is incredibly complex as we are not allowed to use a GPS for the utilized robots (drones and autonomous surface vehicles), it is like operating in a mine. The robots should communicate with each other, figure out where the vessel is, figure out where the object at the vessel is and to carry it back to the USV, making it very difficult, George Nikolakopoulos, Professor of Robotics and AI explains.

A fruitful competition

Although the exact date is not yet set, the final will be held 2024, around February in Abu Dhabi. Meaning that the team has a little more than a year to complete their project and then showcase it. Except from the focused application of the competition on the human trafficking and illegal fishing, the research directions can be used in a lot of other areas.

– It can advance the research in logistics, security, everywhere where you have limited communication, such as in a mine. It can be everything from search and rescue missions to extra-terrestrial exploration, Matteo Fumagalli, Associate Professor of Electrical and Photonics Engineering at the Technical University of Denmark, says.

Considering the amount of brilliant teams that compete in the competition it makes it a very prestigious competition where the winner would achieve worldwide recognition. Furthermore, the prize money of 2 million US dollars could be used to hire 10 more PhD students who could explore completely new topics and carry out ground-breaking research.

– It is very fun to have come so far and of course it would be great if we win. However, the collaboration with the Technical University of Denmark is more important. We can combine control and robotics in the marine area, this cooperation is a great investment for the future and for the future exchange students as well, it is the true outcome no matter if we win or not, George Nikolakopoulos says.


George Nikolakopoulos

George Nikolakopoulos, Professor and Head of Subject

Phone: +46 (0)920 491298
Organisation: Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, Signals and Systems, Department of Computer Science, Electrical and Space Engineering