BIOMEC 2016: Engineering fun with robots

Bio-Inspired Mechanical Robot (BIOMEC) Competition attracts 16 teams of pre-university students from colleges across the Klang Valley.

IT is half past nine on a Saturday morning and the Plenary Theatre is unusually abuzz with the chatter of students brainstorming their ideas for the Bio-Inspired Mechanical Robot (BIOMEC) Competition 2016 on May 7th.

Organised by Monash University Malaysia’s School of Engineering, the competition attracted 16 teams of pre-university students from colleges across the Klang Valley.

Professor Soh Ai Kah, Head of Discipline for Mechanical Engineering, says the competition, which requires teams to creatively construct a movable robot within 3 hours, is a great way to promote engineering to students in an engaging manner.

Citing the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2015-2016, Soh says Monash University ranked 73rd overall and is among the top 50 universities globally in ‘Engineering and Technology’.

“Whether it’s the Monash Clayton campus in Australia or here, we offer an undifferentiated engineering degree program. Students take the same examination papers as their counterparts in Melbourne,” shares Soh as he welcomed the students.

“Unlike steel robots, soft robotics requires one to analyse the motion of nature and apply them to engineering in robots. Just as our human body is composed of muscle, by robots having a soft body, they are flexible in their movement,” explains Dr Surya Nurazman, a School of Engineering  lecturer, whose specialisation is in soft robotics.

The aim of the competition was to give pre-university students an introduction to engineering principles, as the teams’ robots would be judged on three criteria – speed, weight and precision. Each team of three students was given glue sticks, a pre-programmed circuit board, a motor, batteries,  tape, cable tie and breadboard to construct their robot within 3 hours.

Following the three hours allotted for construction, the robots were then tested for 2 minutes to move across a pathway in a series of three trials.

Tham Weng Kee, Mathematics lecturer for Sunway University’s Cambridge A-Level program, lauded the organisers for inspiring ingenuity among the students.

“This competition will be useful as early exposure for them because generally, pre-university programs are very academic in nature. Now, students have an inkling on the processes of engineering, and can experience firsthand what they will be learning in classes,” says Tham.

Soong Jing Chyuan, Physics lecturer at Methodist College Kuala Lumpur concurred with Tham, saying that getting firsthand exposure is the most valuable takeaway for participating students.

“The competition allows for creativity, as different designs are employed to achieve the same goals. Students are challenged to think outside the box in coming up with solutions,” says Soong.

The MCKL students were so excited about the competition that they bought similar materials to practice with, prior to competition day, Soong shares.

“While the task in itself – creating a basic movable robot – is not too challenging, it is quite difficult to excel at it competitively. It boils down to good design,” says Soong, adding that MCKL hopes to organise a similar internal competition for its students after BIOMEC  2016.

CHAMPION - Sunway College, Cambridge A Levels (prize RM3,000)

  1. Nigel Chuah
  2. Yap Kar Hor
  3. Lim Jun Hui

FIRST RUNNER UP – Sunway College, Cambridge A Levels (prize RM2,000)

  1. Lim Zi Heng
  2. Gan Ka Liang
  3. Low Khai Jer

SECOND RUNNER UP – Sunway College, Australian Matriculation (prize RM1,000)

  1. Quah Min Han
  2. Lim Ean Hon
  3. Sam Han Ti

Monash University Malaysia offers the Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) degree with specialisations in Chemical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Mechatronics Engineering. For more information, check out the university’s School of Engineering website.