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UBC students bring Mario Kart to life with robotics competition

Students in UBC's engineering physics program brought Mario Kart to life Thursday, creating autonomous robots to race around a track.

It was part of the annual second-year robotics competition pitting 17 teams against each other, with four students per team.

Just like in real Mario Kart, points were awarded for laps completed, blocks picked up and coins collected.

“The students have built everything from scratch,” said course instructor Dylan Gunn. “This is not kits. This is not Lego. They’ve done all the mechanics, all the electronics, all the software.”

The track was marked by a line of black tape and second-year student Filipe Garavelli said the robots learned to follow it by using reflector sensors.

“It shoots a beam of light and depending on if its reflecting white or black, it controls through (the motherboard) to know where we’re going,” Garavelli said.

Gunn said the event wasn’t just about fun and games. Many of the skills learned during the assignment can be applied to a wide variety of fields.

“Quantum computing, quantitative finance, health care, biotech, rocketry, aerospace, (all have) lots of robotics, lots of AI right now,” he said. “So it’s absolutely everything.”

Gunn said two of B.C.’s biggest recent tech success stories, AbCellera Biologics and Precision Nanosystems, were both founded by graduates of the program. Another graduate works in Texas on SpaceX's next-generation Starship spacecraft. 

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