The University Rover Challenge is a Mars Society-organized robotics competition for college students who design and build the next generation mars rovers that have the potential to work alongside human explorers in the field.
The annual competition is held at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) near Hanksville, Utah. This year, 2013 URC was won by the third two-time champion from Poland, the Hyperion Team of Bialystok University of Technology, who finished off with a record of 490 points, outsourcing the nearest competitor by 91 points. The year 2013 saw the highest ever number of registrants, as many as 15 teams, representing different Universities across the US and Europe, and the first ever Asian team from SRM University, India with their prototype of the rover, 'Rudra.'
The rover is judged in the four competition tasks, the sample return task, astronaut assistance task, terrain traversing task, presentation task. The terrain traversing task, a new event for 2013, provided the most excitement for teams and judges alike. Rovers had to race across a variety of terrain through a series of five gates. After starting with a pass through soft, sandy ground to Gate 1, through Gate 2. Another rocky pass through Gate 3 lead to increasingly steep climbs through the fourth and fifth gates. While several teams made the climb to Gate 4, most lost traction and slid down the steep hillside. Only Hyperion's rover was able to climb through the final gate during the competition.
While team SRM wasn't really successful in passing through all the Gates, it surely did impress the judges in the sample return task with their analytical skills. Before travelling to the United States, the team calibrated their equipment using soil samples from extreme locations from India." The techniques," says, Naren GK, a final year Biotechnology student on the team, "that we employed in detecting the signs of life, the use of laser-induced fluorescent imaging methods to detect cyanobacteria, seemed to have impressed the panel."
Teams are allowed to operate their rovers from designated command and control stations, where a team is involved with controlling the rover through wireless communications methods, as the rover runs in an MDRS field site located in the desert of southern Utah.
While the 36-kg Rudra seemed to have given the team an advantage in terms of its stability, power capacity and its terrain traversing abilities what it seemed to lack was the design, fabrication and lack of equipments on the rover and on the communications centre. Jagadeesh RB, a Computer Science engineering student, who's in charge of the communication with the rover hopes to the WPC grants them permission for certain fabrications that are needed for the better performance of the rover on the field.
The team is currently recruiting students from various departments of SRM University for next year's competition.
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