The Amrita Robotics Club team that participated in the 2015 University Rover Challenge (URC), Mars Desert Research Station, Hanksville, Utah, United States, from May 28-30, was one of the few Indian teams to compete.
The team of 9 students, comprising of students from Mechanical Engineering, Electronics & Communication Engineering and Computer Science Engineering of Amrita School of Engineering, Amritapuri Campus, embarked on the mission to travel to Mars Desert Reach Center at UTAH, USA and worked hard to assemble the robot within a day to make it ready for the competition.
The team placed 20th position from around the world, in the competition that challenged students to design, build and operate the next generation of Mars rovers. The team competed well in all the Rover tasks and the overall Rover design & control and communication system was well appreciated by the judges. The Amrita team outpaced teams from IIT Bombay, University of Delhi and Iowa State University (USA).
Prior to the start of the competition, the students were required to submit a video presentation that explained the design of their rover. Students also had to submit a proposal focusing on the team structure, resources, and project plan to competition judges. They cleared the Critical Design Review of the University Mars Rover Challenge 2015 and the team was short listed among the final 23 teams.
“Amrita Mar’s rover features a bio-inspired eight-wheeled drive mechanism, an integrated robotic arm and a stereo vision technique for advanced image processing. This spider-like mechanism allows our rover to traverse extremely uneven terrains and stereo vision system provides certain level of autonomy for the navigation of rover. In order to investigate narrow, deep and risky areas, we used two four-wheeled swarm robots (ground vehicles) with stereo vision, which are kept in the main rover and can be deployed when required,” shared the Team Lead Aswath Suresh, student of the Department of Electronics and Communication Engineering.
At the competition, the team competed in five active tasks. A sample return task required the rover to select multiple sites of biological interest within a 0.5 km radius of their base in the field, collect and return sub-surface samples and also test sample for humidity and pH levels while onboard the rover. An Astronaut Assistance Task required delivering multiple supply containers to simulated astronauts in the field as quickly as possible with given approximate GPS coordinates. An Equipment Servicing Task required the rover to perform tasks such as measuring voltage across exposed terminals, cleaning a solar panel, reading meters, pushing buttons & flipping switches. A Terrain Traversing Task required the rover to traverse a variety of difficult terrains as part of an engineering field test of the ruggedness and route-finding ability of the rovers. Finally in the Presentation Task, the team prepared and delivered a presentation to the URC judges describing their team, rover design and functionality.
"This was a good learning experience for the team to face the challenges and overcome the difficulties in the field." said Dr. Ganesha Udupa who guided the students. "It is a remarkable achievement as the Amrita team participated for the first time as compared to all the other teams." He also shared that a few of the students after the Rover competition met Amma in San Ramon Ashram (USA) and told her about the competition and that they had not ranked highly. Amma encouraged them, saying that they should perform well the next time. She said, "The interest to participate in such an international event and the intention to develop the required skills to attain a higher goal is enough." She added to try to learn from their mistakes and blessed them all to reach higher goal in life.
The team is already getting another chance to present their design as they will represent India at the European Rover Challenge contest to be held on September 5-6, 2015 at Regional Science-Technology Centre (RCNT), Świętokrzyskie. The Amrita team qualified the Design Draft Review of European Rover Challenge 2015 and their team was short listed among the final 34 teams, of which 2 teams were from India.