Mars is a dangerous place. Future human explorers must face dangers from radiation, an all-but-non-existent atmosphere, and an utterly hostile landscape. Astronauts will only leave their shielded habitats for the most important work of exploration. They will rely on semi-automated robot assistants for the more mundane tasks. The Mars Society created the University Rover Challenge to develop these robot assistants and encourage college students to join the effort to explore Mars.
23 teams from Bangladesh, Canada, Egypt, India, Poland, and the United States faced each other in the Utah desert this past weekend at the Mars Society’s Mars Desert Research Station. The students commanded their rovers to perform a set of tasks that simulated the work a Mars robot might perform:
- Sample Return - the rover must investigate sites for potential life forms and retrieve a sub-surface sample.
- Astronaut Assistance - the rover must collect and distribute assorted tools and equipment around the competition area.
- Equipment Servicing - the rover must maintain several pipes, hoses, and valves.
- Terrain Traversing - the rover must navigate through sand, boulders, and steep slopes
The URC judges evaluate the teams based on how many sub-tasks the rovers completed within the allotted time as well as on the teams’ final presentations.
Bialystok University of Technology’s Team Hyperion won last year’s Challenge and repeated their victory this year. Second place went to the Missouri University of Science and Technology’s Mars Rover Design Team. The Rzeszow University of Technology’s Legendary Rover Team, another Polish entry, placed in third. Brigham Young University’s Mars Applied Robotics Systems, a team of undergraduate students in their capstone engineering course, received the judges’ prize for most innovative design.