UofU Students Compete in a NASA Sponsored National Robot Competition

June 4, 2014

University of Utah RoboUtes competed in three day national competition at the Johnson Space Center in Texas Wednesday.
 SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH (GOOD 4 UTAH) – A team of engineering students from the University of Utah called the “RoboUtes” competed in a three-day national competition at the Johnson Space Center in Texas Wednesday.

The team spoke to Good 4 Utah on day two of the competition saying they didn’t fair so well after a part broke right before they were up to compete. However, they still went for it and proved that had they not faced a malfunction they could have swept the competition away.

Only eight schools were selected by NASA and the National Institute of Aerospace to take part in the competition to build a robot that could be delivered to Mars. The students named their rover “Cole MK V.”

The objective of the competition is for an orbiting spacecraft to communicate directly with a land rover on Mars.

“We can put people in orbit around Mars relatively cheaply, nevertheless it’s expensive to put them on Mars. If we can put them in orbit, put a rover on the ground, and have that low latency communication with the rover, then we can do a lot more science than possible right now with the long latency communication from Earth to Mars,” said David Van Ness with RoboUtes.

Van Ness is the person controlling Cole MK V’s every move during the competition in Texas, but he and his team are doing it from the mission control center at the University of Utah.

The team tells Good 4 Utah that after months of sleepless nights, they are confident they have constructed just what the competition called for with their advanced 3-D vision system.

“When I move my head in mission control the robot will mimic my movement and move two cameras in a 3-D alignment. I can see exactly what the rover sees with depth,” said Van Ness. “The mimicked motion is almost instantaneous.” The engineering students made the rover navigation possible by placing cameras in two places on the rover. This strategy gave the operator even more of an advantage against their competitors.

“With the multiple cameras it’s pretty efficient for the operator to reach around grab different shaped rocks in different environments, and be pretty successful at it,” said Aaron Wernerehl a RoboUte mechanical engineering student.

Although the RoboUtes are out of the main competition, they will compete in small competitions on Thursday.