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Sumobot contest promotes technology-enhanced learning

29 October 2012

(From left) The winning team Upgraded Hamburger members Weng Seng, Chun Mei, Matthew and Eugene with Teaching Assistant Mr Patrick Tan (middle) and Assoc Prof Henz (back)

Robots charge against each other to test their strength

The NUS School of Computing foyer was turned into a mini-battleground as 13 robots pitted against each other as part of the year-one syllabus on Programming Methodology, an introductory course to programming concepts. This is the first time in the world that Lego Mindstorms robots are programmed using JavaScript, a leading web programming language.

Robot programming is an excellent vehicle for conveying the concepts of the module in an exciting way, said Associate Professor Martin Henz, the lecturer of the course. As part of the module's continuous assessment, he explained that students in groups of four program Lego Mindstorms robots which have to first perform two programming tasks. Those that passed the tests then qualified for the Sumobot contest, an exciting "Sumo" arena where the robots wrestled each other on their own without any human control.

Team Upgraded Hamburger - comprising first-year students Eugene Lim, Matthew Saw, Lok Weng Seng and Tay Chun Mei - emerged winner after a gruelling one-on-one tournament. All the teams spent a mere two weeks to create their robots.

Even though JavaScript has not been adopted yet for Lego Mindstorms robots, it is already being used for robot programming and is fast gaining popularity in computing education, noted Assoc Prof Henz. "Realising this, my goal was to harness JavaScript's popularity and excitement to motivate students to even higher achievements," he said.

The novel course format was first developed by Assistant Professor Ben Leong. He used game mechanics, immersing students and teaching assistants into a storyline set in a Star Wars-like universe. Students have to complete missions, which include assessments, tutorial participation and course, and are awarded points accordingly.