Autonomous learning makes smarter robots

Technology at your fingertips

Michael Pearson remembers arriving at the Wellington Faculty of Engineering in his first year and being told, “You can use any of the technology you like.”

“Laser cutting, 3D printing—we have so many resources, and expertise, at our finger tips. I think that’s what makes Wellington unique from other universities in New Zealand,” says Michael, now in his final year of a Software Engineering degree.

A passion for robots

This practical learning environment has allowed Michael to explore his passion for robots, using his skills in software engineering to work at the interface between robotics software and hardware.

“It’s fair to say that a lot of the work in building software for robots has guided my learning in my degree,” says Michael, who believes his involvement with robotics at university has pushed him to the next level of understanding how things work.

With robotics, you get an appreciation for how a system works in its entirety—it’s pretty technical stuff, but it’s worth it when you see your robot do what you’ve programmed it to do.

Competition experience

Michael has had many of these light-bulb moments through his involvement with the Victoria University of Wellington team in the National Instruments Autonomous Robotics Competition.

Being involved in the competition is a great way to learn technical skills in an academic context, without the pressure, says Michael, who has been involved in the robotics team for four years.

Real-world success

The team is now working on creating their ‘smart transportation’ robot. The self-driving miniature car will be able to see the world around it, follow road rules and regulations, and steer through a simulated school zone, dropping off passengers and navigating surrounding buildings.

The progression in knowledge is amazing, says Michael. He hopes that after its success in previous years, the team will win when it goes to Sydney to compete in the live competition later this year.

This is real-world stuff, says Michael, “and that’s what I’m in it for, seeing things work.”