DESERT RESEARCH STATION, Utah - With a successful simulated rescue mission on Mars and a unique design that literally overpowered some of its competition, the Oregon State University Robotics Team last weekend won the 2008 University Rover Challenge at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah.
The OSU team, operating its "Parallax Quad-Rover" that had been assembled by about 15 OSU students - mostly electrical and computer engineering undergraduates - claimed victory in the competition against teams from the University of Nevada, Georgia Tech, Iowa State, Brigham Young University and others.
The event challenges students to invent their own Mars Rover designs and then perform selected engineering and science tasks such as construction, soil analysis and navigation in rough, rocky terrain. The small robots move via remote control and relay visual information back to their operators.
An event that helped put the OSU team over the top was finding and delivering supplies to a "distressed astronaut" - in this case a real, but empty astronaut suit lying on the desert floor. OSU students had created a gasoline-powered hydraulic system for their rover, the first of its type ever used in this competition, which provided far more power than some of the other entries that were run on electrical batteries. OSU excelled in this event while other teams were suffering from camera failures, runaway rovers and dead batteries.
"Our rover had phenomenal power and speed, and we were able to go over and through rocks instead of weaving around them in places where many teams got stuck," said Matt Shuman, a graduate student in electrical and computer engineering, and leader of this year's Rover Project.
Shuman said some weaknesses in the OSU rover had become apparent in previous tests, and most of them were addressed before the Utah competition. As a result, it was very sturdy and reliable, he said.
The OSU Team was sponsored by the Oregon NASA Space Grant Consortium and Parallax, Inc., a Sacramento, Calif., robotics firm. They have already committed to participating again in next year's competition. As a result of winning this event, the team also will receive support to attend the 11th annual Mars Society Convention to be held in August in Boulder, Colo.
"This was a very good experience for many of the students," Shuman said "It should also open some doors for employment opportunities and summer internships."
Alan Spencer, a guest judge from event sponsor Raytheon, said he was "really impressed by the professionalism of all the teams."
"These students are going to make really excellent engineers and scientists as they enter the workforce," Spencer said. "And I think they'll all be in better shape because of their participation this year."
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