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04 / 04 / 2019
HKUST Engineering Student Team Crowned Champion at Smart Warehouse Hackathon
(Starting from third from left) Team members Xiang Tainqi (SENG Year 1 student), Lam Chin-Kiu (Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Year 4 student), Cindy Chen (Year 2 student majoring in Mathematics and Computer Science), Xiao Hongyu (SENG Year 1 student) and Shum Ka-Shun (SENG Year 1 student) were the proud winners of the smart warehouse competition. They were accompanied by Dr. Winnie Leung, lecturer at HKUST's Division of Integrative Systems and Design (second from right), when receiving the grand prize.   [Download Photo]

A team of five HKUST School of Engineering (SENG) students brought home the championship at the Kerry Logistics Hackathon in February, a competition that sought to explore the possibility of using drones to help run smart warehouses.

Joined by 50 local undergraduate and postgraduate students in 8 groups, as well as 50 industry participants, the competition comprised two sessions.

In the “Drone Flying Competition” session, contestants had to create the best path for the drone to race and capture information about the warehouse at the Kerry Cargo Centre in Kwai Chung, by leveraging the power of autonomous drones and Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques in this 24-hour overnight hackathon. Contestants were judged on criteria such as how accurate, efficient, stable and well-planned their drone flights were.

In the following “Smart Warehouse Presentation” session, contestants had to harness the data captured by the drones, come up with innovative ideas and ultimately pitch them to industry experts on stage. They were evaluated for their business model, presentation and design.

Prior to the actual hackathon, students from the HKUST RoboMaster team under the university’s Division of Integrative Systems and Design (ISD), co-organizer of the event, trained contestants on drone operation, autonomous flight and vision streaming.

According to Dr. Winnie LEUNG, Lecturer at ISD, hackathons are typically organized by companies that provide enabling elements that contestants can use in their solution under a broad theme of application.

However, she added, “The host of the current hackathon (Kerry Logistics) is actually the industry problem owner, looking for innovative ideas to solve (problems). Having participants devise a drone-based solution in 24 hours is very ambitious and having a realistic warehouse to carry out the demo is also unique.”

As part of the winning team, Cindy CHEN, Year 2 student majoring in Mathematics and Computer Science, also pointed out that such a race against the clock urged them to learn things in the fastest way and apply the knowledge immediately.

To complete the challenge, the teams had to learn about C#, a general-purpose and multi-paradigm programming language, among other applications such as the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) and Extensible Application Markup Language (XAML).

Cindy said, “Actually, most of these skills are not only used in the hackathon but will be quite helpful when I step into an engineering career in the future. Although we didn’t learn them systematically, I believe that being exposed to these elementary skills at this stage will help a lot.”

Meanwhile, Cindy’s teammate SHUM Ka-Shun, Year 1 student at SENG, echoed, “In terms of smart warehouses, we need to analyze the problems in an existing solution, which is challenging. But during the preparation, we learned how to highlight our solution’s advantage in the presentation and how to deliver our main point to the audience. I think these skills would help us a lot.”

Dr. Leung said connectivity to a multitude of IT infrastructure within a warehouse and the ability of workers to work seamlessly are all important features of a smart warehouse. She explained, “The current competition focuses on inventory management, but beyond autonomous stock taking, there are many other needs, for example, goods retrieval, ease of operation, 24-hour warehouse, etc., to be addressed.”

Therefore, she saw the event as a great example of how local industries can tap into the innovation engine in Hong Kong, and believed that the new trend will be having more industries involved, such as real estate developers hosting smart home hackathons or banks organizing ones related to fintech.

Earlier this year, another HKUST student team also earned a first-place finish at Hong Kong’s first AI x Drones Joint University Competition, organized by tech company Microsoft and drone manufacturer DJI.

Continuing the wave of drone adventures, the “Hackathon@HKUST 2019” is around the corner. Combining both software and hardware elements, the annual hackathon at HKUST taking place later this month will offer participants a chance to develop prototypes, meet industry experts and pitch their own ideas.

The highlight this year is the opportunity for participants to try their hand at the world’s second-ranking Tianhe-2 supercomputer, developed by China's National University of Defense Technology and currently installed at the National Supercomputer Center in Guangzhou.