Team Panthera, Wins National Pride in International Challenge

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Members of Team Panthera with their winning Remote Control vehicle

A team of teenagers from SMK Seri Perling did their school, state and nation very proud when they emerged as First Runner-up in an engineering competition held in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, last December.

Organised by Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), the Four-by-Four (4×4) In Schools Technology Challenge aimed to introduce students the world over to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and get them interested in an engineering career.

This competition was brought to my attention by a proud parent who was thrilled that her daughter’s team was the proverbial underdogs who joined the national champion team to participate in the World Finals.

It required students to produce a four-wheel-drive Remote Control (RC) vehicle which is able to overcome obstacles similar to real off-road situations, built according to specifications outlined in the Technical Regulations.

The team also had to seek sponsors, produce a Portfolio, prepare a verbal presentation to highlight key points of the project and assemble the vehicle for pit display.

Calling themselves Team Panthera after the scientific name of the Malayan tiger – Panthera tigris jacksoni – the members were John Leong Yung En (Team Leader), Joanne Khoo Jia Yu (Resource Manager), Jamie Lee Pei Lian, Kenny Si Wei Yang (Design Engineer), Farhan Aiman Nordin (Graphic Designer) and Hemlyn Hendry.

Farhan recalls that it was a normal school day when John met these friends and told them that their Information, Communications & Technology teacher, Khairul Ariffin, proposed they joined this national competition.

It was the first time the competition involved government schools as their inaugural event had picked students from international schools to represent the nation.

There were two competitions: the F1 Nationals and the 4×4 Nationals. When they discovered that the 4×4 Nationals challenged them to modify a 4×4 RC vehicle, they were just eager to learn something new.

After the team registered to participate, the In-Country Coordinator, Abdul Shakir Abu Samah, came to brief them about the requirements for the competition.

Fired up for the competition in September 2017, the team invested RM2,544 in a Starter Kit for a 1/18th scale RC vehicle dubbed, ECX Temper Rock Crawler.

With hardly any technical knowledge among them, the team garnered information from RC vehicle websites before they inspected their vehicle to assess its performance and considered the areas which needed modification and improvement.

Based on the Technical Regulations, the vehicle must be equipped with an Ambient Light Sensor that would turn on headlights when light levels dip and also needed a Tilt Sensor that should produce a loud beeping signal when the vehicle tilted more than 30 degrees.

This was to be achieved by instructing or coding the microcontrollers that sense and control objects in the physical world, commonly known by its brand name, Arduino.

John, the electrical engineer, had to learn the Arduino language that enabled him to programme the microcomputer board and give it specific instructions, like the headlights to turn on when it was dark or emit a buzz sound when the vehicle tilted over a certain angle.

Their design engineer, Kenny, came up with ideas for vehicle body designs, some of which, made its way into their final design for the Nationals.

In their quest for three-dimensional (3D) printing facilities, they met freelance Computer Aided Drawing (CAD) specialist, Lim Kiat Liong, who helped to transfer their pencil drawings into digital 3D drawings.

Simultaneously, they met with potential sponsors to raise an estimated RM5,000 for their Nationals’ project and also implemented a crowdfunding mechanism.

English teacher, Koh Poh Tan, not only helped them put together their Portfolio but also offered her office for their project preparation and accompanied them while they worked into the wee hours of the morning!

At the Nationals held in Kuala Lumpur last September, it was nerve-wrecking to watch the other teams receive awards for Best Sponsorship & Marketing, Best Social Media & Sustainability, Best Engineered Vehicle, Best Portfolio and Pit Display while their team’s name was not called.

Everyone held their breaths when the Second Runner-Up was announced and then they were stunned to hear, “First Runner-Up, Team Five, Team Panthera!”

Team Hurricane from SMK Agama Johor Bahru clinched the National title.

The organiser’s Project Manager, Nelson Vale, explained that Team Panthera was eligible to join the World Finals in Abu Dhabi, UAE but they had to undertake their own expenses.

With an additional financial burden on their shoulders, the team struggled to reach a decision on whether to join the World Finals. Then Jamie and Hemlyn decided to leave the team while the remaining four members went on to the international challenge.

After their year-end exams, the team looked for potential sponsors while they completed their project in the next seven weeks.

Through their partnership with Johor Crawler Team, 4×4 RC vehicle enthusiasts, the team gained tips on how to modify their RC vehicle and increase its performance.

At the World Finals where the prize was an internship programme with JLR Engineers, 25 teams from 16 countries participated, with Malaysia represented by two teams, both from Johor.

Team Panthera felt overawed to compete against schools from nations with more advanced technologies like USA, UK, Australia and Brazil, but their teachers, parents and mentors kept them focused.

Instead of talking about the improvements made on the vehicle in their verbal presentation, they shared their experiences about the challenges encountered in fund-raising, experimenting with the magnetic-ride suspension, among other issues and how this competition impacted their lives and career choices.

Friends and families watched the Awards Ceremony through live-streaming and were thrilled to see Team Panthera winning against English-speaking nations, to clinch the Best Presentation Award!

It was sheer pandemonium at the announcement of the top three winners, when they heard, “First Runner-Up, Team Panthera!”

Team K-EVO from Portugal was champion while Australia’s Team Fair Dinkum was Second Runner-Up.

I met Team Panthera with their mentors, Mrs. Koh, and principal, Pn Hajjah Subaidah Haleed, and saw a special bond, born from working together in this life-changing experience to develop teamwork and a maturity beyond their years.