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U of M robots win international title in Malaysia

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The Snobots are first-class athletes… in the robotics world, that is.

Humanoid robots Jimmy and Jeff represented the University of Manitoba proudly, coming first at the 2013 HuroCup in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, an international humanoid robot competition.

Jimmy and Jeff faced off against 45 other competitors with teams twice and three times the size of their own team, which consisted of only two U of M students, Josh Jung and Chris Iverach-Brereton, and a computer science professor, Jacky Baltes.

Iverach-Brereton, 28, a computer science master’s student at the U of M from St. Vital, has travelled to this competition for three years now. He said this is the best year they have had at the competition.

"We’re all really thrilled with how everything went for us," said Iverach-Brereton. "There were the most teams competing out of any year I’ve seen… Not only did we get first place overall, we got first place in two of the categories, climbing and the weightlifting."

At the competition the robots were challenged in eight different events: climbing, weightlifting, a soccer game, soccer penalty kicks, a basketball free-throw, marathon, sprint, and an obstacle course, said Dr. John Anderson, head of computer science at U of M.    

Anderson, who did not go to the competition with the team, said, though they’ve physically had Jimmy and Jeff for a couple of years and a couple of competitions, the thousands of lines of code which teach the robot how to make decisions have been altered over the years.

"We’ve had half a dozen students doing code throughout the year," said Anderson.  "Each year we keep the code from the year before and adapt it."

Iverach-Brereton roughly estimates the U of M team has spent 26,000 hours writing code over the last three years.

"We’re all really, really happy with our performance," said Iverach-Brereton, who added the fact the team did so well, despite being smaller in comparison to the competition, said it speaks "very highly of the quality of the students we have working here."

The students who worked on Jimmy and Jeff include Iverach-Brereton, Josh Jung, Tiago Martins Araujo, Diana Carrier, Geoff Nagy, Meng Cheng Lau, and Andrew Winton.

Anderson said the dream for humanoid robots is for them to be used commercially.

"That’s what everybody hopes," said Anderson. "We’re not in it to make money, but it would be nice for these to be used in a setting where they can help people."

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