Mars Rover Team Wins Canadian International Rover Challenge

When the coed leaders of the Northeastern Mars Rover Staff determined they had been going to take part within the inaugural Winter Canadian Worldwide Rover Problem, they thought it will be good observe greater than the rest.

They didn’t anticipate to win the competitors. But, that’s precisely what occurred.

The Northeastern staff took house the gold final month, handily beating out McMaster College for the highest spot with a rating of 237.71 factors to McMaster’s 137.13.

“It was fairly big for us when it comes to staff morale,” says Brooke Chalmers, a third-year scholar at Northeastern and the combination lead and software program co-lead for the Mars rover group. “It actually felt like all of the hours that we put in throughout the prior weeks paid off in a manner.”

It’s the primary competitors win for the six-year-old membership, which consists of scholars finding out pc science, engineering and life science.

The staff of about 50 college students had been laborious at work growing and iterating on its newest robotic rover: the Watney, Mark V. 

Coming in at 50 kilograms (110 kilos), the rover incorporates a 5052 aluminum alloy chassis, six 3D-printed nylon wheels, a robotic arm with end-of-arm tooling, a life detection module for pattern assortment and 14 onboard cameras. 

The Canadian competitors was damaged up into 4 challenges designed to place college students’ rovers by simulated environments just like duties a rover might need to finish whereas on Mars’ floor. Every problem was ranked utilizing a 100-point scale.  

Within the Arm Dexterity Problem, for instance, college students had been tasked with controlling the rover’s robotic arm to revive energy to a campsite. The problem concerned navigating the robotic by 4 management panels the place the robotic arm had for use to press buttons and flip switches, explains Jason Kobrin, a fourth-year scholar at Northeastern and a mechanical operations co-lead for the Mars rover group.

Brooke Chalmers and Jason Kobrin working on a Mars Rover.
Brooke Chalmers, who research pc science and Jason Kobrin, who research mechanical engineering, work on the Mars Rover within the Richards Corridor Makerspace on March 27, 2024. Photograph by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern College

Of the 4 groups collaborating within the problem, Northeastern scored the very best for the problem with a rating of 49.49 factors. 

Kobrin says the staff has spent the previous yr finishing redesigning the robotic’s arm, which was one of many rover’s weak factors throughout earlier competitions. It’s now one of many rover’s largest strengths. The robotic arm has six levels of freedom and might carry masses as much as about 10 kilograms (22 kilos). 

“In an effort to enhance that we redesigned our arm this yr to make use of higher motors and to be simpler to regulate total,” he says. 

It’s by collaborating in these competitions and thru common testing the place the staff is ready to slender in on the rover’s shortcomings and enhance its capabilities, Kobrin says. By engaged on the rover, college students are additionally getting the chance to enhance their very own abilities. 

“Each week, it’s steady enchancment,” he says. “Whether or not it’s including a brand new portion of software program code, [or] whether or not designing a brand new mount for our cameras, each little enchancment makes an enormous distinction.” 

“For everyone to have the ability to design and construct this robotic to operate effectively but additionally to have the ability to management it in high-pressure conditions and to succeed in the targets we had been in search of to succeed in, is simply actually spectacular,” he provides.  

The staff thought the two-day occasion hosted in Niagara Falls, Ontario, can be an amazing primer to check out the capabilities of the machine earlier than the staff took half within the upcoming annual College Rover Problem (URC), the Mars Society’s premier Mars rover scholar competitors held on the Mars Desert Analysis Heart exterior Hanksville, Utah. 

The URC competitors is outdated hat for the group, having participated within the problem in 2019, 2022 and 2023. The competitors was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.

“We went into this competitors pondering, ‘OK, we’re going to make use of this as a chance to organize for URC. We’re going to check stuff to ensure all of it works,’” Chalmers says. 

The staff had its greatest exhibiting throughout the Winter Transversal Problem, with a ending rating of 84.72 factors. For the problem, the rover needed to roll by treacherous and uneven terrain whereas avoiding obstacles.

“All of the challenges concerned a point of the rover driving round and shifting over tough terrain, however this problem was targeted totally on that,” Chalmers says. 

With the general win, Chalmers says she’s hopeful that new members will likely be excited to hitch. 

“Most individuals on the staff have been speaking about this with their family and friends and speaking about what we’re doing, which is de facto cool,” Chalmers says. “I do know a couple of of my mates have expressed curiosity in becoming a member of the staff since. It’s very thrilling to have one thing to speak about and have one thing to indicate for all the hassle we put in.” 

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