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UW Contingent Selected for Prestigious Engineering Competition

November 5, 2015
rover model with many wheels and scoop on end
This rover chassis forms the basis of the UW design that will be in the 2016 RASC-AL Exploration Robo-Ops Competition. (UW Photo)

The hard work of a group of engineering students was rewarded recently, as it was announced that a University of Wyoming team was selected to participate in a national rover design and demonstration competition.

For the first time in the event’s history, a UW team was invited to participate in the 2016 RASC-AL Exploration Robo-Ops Competition, sponsored by NASA and the National Institute of Aerospace. The 2016 event will be hosted May 24-26 at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The team consists of UW engineering students including Nasser Alawami, AlQatif City, Saudi Arabia; Reda Al Momen, Dammam, Saudi Arabia; Mohammed Busaleh, Al-Hasa, Saudi Arabia; Arron Harms, Evergreen, Colo.; James Lamb, Mountain View; Matthew Love, Laramie; Cale McCormick, Lewellen, Neb.; Brian Moore, Littleton, Colo.; Sean O'Leary, St. Charles, Mo.; Ross Petrutiu, Boise, Idaho; Gowthaman Prabhu, Tamil Nadu, India; Robert Ressler, Burlington, Vt.; Kent Scarince, Lander; and Richard Yang, Laramie.  

Faculty members involved in the project are Ruben Gamboa, professor of computer science and project faculty adviser; Kevin Kilty, associate lecturer of mechanical engineering; and David Whitman, professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Team organizers also pointed to the work of the team that embarked on the project in 2014 and made it possible, which includes Carter Schultz, Joshua Bailey, Thomas Bilodeau and Kyle Cox, all of whom studied mechanical engineering.

“The seniors involved in this project last year did quite a good job on chassis selection and proposal generation,” Kilty says. “They deserve some credit for this as well.”

The UW rover prevailed against two incumbent teams with an innovative chassis and suspension design that mimics the mechanics of movement of a saltwater shrimp. The seven-wheeled rover will be the first submission, in event history, with an odd number of wheels. Event judges took notice of the unique nature of the rover’s power architecture.

Along with UW, schools chosen for the competition include California State University-Long Beach, the University of Buffalo, the University of California-Berkeley, the University of Maryland, the University of Oklahoma, the University of Utah and West Virginia University.

In an event billed as “where obstacle course meets scavenger hunt,” undergraduate and graduate students are invited to form a multidisciplinary squad to build a planetary rover prototype that can perform competitive tasks in field tests. Allowable systems can include a single rover, multiple independently controlled rovers or a parent rover with supplementary micro-rovers. Up to eight qualifying teams are selected to receive a $10,000 award to facilitate full participation, including expenses for rover development, materials, testing equipment, hardware and software.

The rovers will compete under the supervision of NASA judges. Up to three members of the team and the faculty adviser will travel for on-site testing, while the remaining team members stay behind at the local university to conduct "mission control" tasks.

The prototype rovers are tele-operated by the university team, and must negotiate a series of obstacles and accomplish a variety of tasks. The task list includes negotiating slopes; navigating sand and gravel pits; picking up rock samples and placing them on the rover for the remainder of the course; driving over rocks; and the option of performing an unplanned contingency task that will be revealed during the competition.

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