My friend invited me to an impromptu trip to 张家界 (Zhangjiajie) the week before, just two days before we were set to leave. Zhangjiajie is famous for 武陵源 (Wulingyuan), a UNESCO World Heritage site, inscribed since 1992, with over 3000 quartzite sandstone pillars and peaks. It was featured in James Cameron’s 2008 blockbuster hit, Avatar.

At the last minute, we booked accommodations via Airbnb, as well as overnight train tickets. Unfortunately, the only seats available were 硬座 (ying zuo) seats, meaning those rigid, non-recline seats that face each other, forcing you to look at the other passenger for the entire duration of the journey. We were to spend two nights on the train for a return journey, with each ride lasting 18 hours.

The train rides were horrendous, but the trip was spectacular. Our hosts ran a home-stay for tourists, they were friendly and hospitable and even provided meals. We managed to cover a good number of attractions in a few days, such as 杨家界公园 (Yangjiajie Reserve), 武陵源 (Wulingyuan) and 天门山 (Tianmenshan). The natural scenery was breath-taking and the mountain air was cleaner than those from air purifiers.

After the trip, it was back to Hangzhou. Our team was working on 3-D printing and the final assembly of the protype, a hexagon-shaped module designed to be linked with other modules to form a conveyor belt system. These modules would then coordinate to turn and move packages in any desired direction. The initial 3-D model was printed. However, it did not fit well with the wheels and motors. During the week, reiterations were made to accommodate the motors and the wheels, with consideration to the power of the motors and practicality of its size. The actualisation of the complete prototype was delayed by the 3-D printing process, as each print took a few hours to complete.

Technically, it was difficult to merge software and hardware for a fully functioning prototype that would function independently, such that throwing a package onto the conveyor belt would activate the system of modules. Hence, we went forward with producing a prototype to demonstrate the concept. This meant using Arduino chips to control the movement of the motors.

All in all, it was a fruitful week filled with fun and work at the same time.

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