A toxic pond, a dangerous leak, a hazardous rescue mission: this was the challenge faced and overcome by a talented team of UNSW Mechanical Engineering students to win this year's Warman Design and Build Competition.

Second-year students Nathan Symonds, Afroz Awan, Jay Davey and Matt Webb topped a field of 17 teams from around Australia and New Zealand with their machine designed to respond to a hypothetical environmental contamination threat on a mythical planet named Gondwana.

Warman Competition teams were required to act as rescue teams from Earth, designing a machine that could be deployed in the event of a leak from a pond of a valuable but highly toxic chemical. The machine needed to be able to place devices to stop the "leak" and also recover a number of expensive "sensor units".

In reality the teams were required to create an autonomous machine, within stringent weight, power and size limits, which could traverse an obstacle-laden 3.6m course, climb over barriers, deposit two balls into holes (or "leaks") and pick up a number of others on a single run.

Seven months of brainstorming, designing and painstaking testing by the UNSW team went into creating a wheeled machine capable of fulfilling the tasks and at the final, held at Sydney's Powerhouse Museum on September 23, they emerged victorious amid tough competition from the University of Western Australia and RMIT.

Afroz said the greatest challenge of entering the competition was conceiving a design that would work.

"It was definitely the designing aspect of it that was most difficult because we were going from nothing," she said.

The team members shared a $1,000 prize for their win.

See the winners in action - broadband | dial-up