Searching for future engineering heroes


2 June, 2017

Searching for future engineering heroes

On a planet far, far away, humans are in need of an engineering hero. Uranium is the only power source available to those living on the cold edges of the galaxy. They need to mine the ore so that they can use it to survive - but doing that exposes them to deadly radiation. What can they do?

UNSW Canberra is holding an annual competition today to answer this hypothetical question, testing the robot-making skills of its second year aeronautical and mechanical engineering students.

“The competition is essentially about learning mechanical and electronic design from doing,” says Dr. Warren Smith, from UNSW Canberra. He is a National Coordinator of the Warman Design and Build Competition. “Each year we present a different scenario, which pushes the students to go beyond the theory they learn in the classroom and turn their ideas into reality.”

The competition runs at a national level, and, since its inception, forms a major piece of second year mechanical engineering design project coursework in many universities. This year more than 2,000 students from around 20 universities in Australasia will take part. Each campus runs its own competition, from which a representative team is chosen for the national final.

There are 12 teams at UNSW Canberra competing against each other for a spot in the nationals. They will test self-built autonomous systems that can collect, sort and deposit mined ore and waste in a timely manner. Modelling the ore and waste with three ball types, points are awarded when the design can sort the balls into two groups: valuable ore, which is placed into one remote stockpile container; and waste, which is placed into a second container. This must be completed as quickly as possible, with the lightest ‘system’ possible, to score the highest points.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Warman Design and Build competition, with the 2017 project entitled “THIRTY”: The Highly Ingenious Recovery and Transportation of Yellowcake. The past has seen an array of devices created to suit other fantasy scenarios. The competition is popular and well known amongst engineering students and teachers for its aspects of discovery, critical thinking, and self-learning.

“Though the scenario is always a mythical one, the outcomes are practical," explains Dr. Smith. "Students can have a great idea on paper, but if it stops there, it doesn't teach them practical application, or give them the experience of manufacture and assembly, or of working in a production team. To take a concept from theory to a design and then to working hardware requires good planning, building, testing, evaluating and reflection.”

As for winning tips, Dr. Smith says that failure is often the key to victory. “With each failure, significant learning takes place. We can often learn more from our failures than we do from success.” Otherwise, he keeps it simple: “Read the rules, start early, keep an open mind, reflect and learn, and have fun!”

The winning team from UNSW Canberra will go on to compete against other Australian, NZ, Malaysian and Chinese engineering students at the Sydney National Finals, 15 October at the Powerhouse Museum.


What: The Warman Design and Build Competition, UNSW Canberra

Date: 2 June 2017

Time: 1:30pm

Location: Adams Auditorium at ADFA

Contact: Dr. Warren Smith, ADFA, UNSW Canberra, phone: 0407 893 594 and email:

To arrange onsite interviews please contact:

Kylie Simmonds, Communications and Media Manager, UNSW Canberra,

phone: 0434 602 685 and email:


The event is run by UNSW Canberra.

The project is sponsored nationally by Weir-Minerals (the maker of the Warman™ Pump) and Engineers Australia.