European Rover Challenge
For quite some time, I was looking to participate in an international competition for students, since I find this a great learning opportunity both on technical but also soft skills. It is a way to hone our engineering skills, while having to work within a team on tight budgets and deadlines. And all this combined with the satisfaction of doing something meaningful and challenging.
I tried several times to create a team and together decide what contest to participate in, but the motivation was always dwindling fast and we didn’t manage to get far. Therefore, I decided to propose directly a contest myself, and see if I could find students interested in this. After searching for quite some time, I decided to try to participate in the European Rover Challenge, which is organised every year in Kielce in Poland. The reason why I choose this contest is because the theme and location is rather stable, and we are therefore able to reuse whatever we develop each year. This makes it easier to start and maintain a team.
To make the workload easier both for me and for the students, I thought that each student could work on their thesis for one part of the contest. Like this, they could combine their time invested in the contest with their time put for their thesis, and I would invest my thesis consultation time.
European Rover Challenge
The European Rover Challenge is about developing an autonomous mobile platform that can explore and perform science on the surface of Mars. There is a mock-up of Mars surface at the site of the contest, and the teams are expected to bring their robots on-site and demonstrate they can perform some scientific and exploration tasks.
The contest consist of several tasks that each team needs to accomplish. Based on how well the team performs on each of these tasks, they get points, and an overall winner is calculated based on the sum of the points.
In the following sections, we demonstrate visually the work that was performed in the 2022-2023 academic year from the students that participated in the contest.
This task is about setting and validating a scientific hypothesis regarding the surface of Mars. It is also about collecting and storing surface and deep ground samples. The demonstrations below show our approach to each of these subtasks. The work in this video was performed by Sergiu Mateiu, and Barna Muszka.
In the first video we see the operation of a custom made drilling machine, attached at the tip of our robotic arm, that can retrieve deep samples from specific locations. In the second video, a specially designed scoop is excavating soil from a custom made container.
The second task is about performing some maintenance tasks using a robotic arm attached on the mobile robot. The work was performed by Fabian Pacuraru, and it allows our robotic arm to operate switches based on a set of instructions. It allows allows the robot to manipulate pluts and cables.
The final task is about exploration. The teams should demonstrate they can explore autonomously the surface of Mars without the use of GPS. The robot first needs to understand where it is located, and this is done primarily using some landmarks placed on the surface. The first part of the navigation task was to perform pose estimation using these landmarks, something that was performed by Darius Man and is demonstrated in the following video
Extra points are given to the teams for conserving energy while transversing the terrain. The work demonstrated below was performed by Nikolett Szasz and is about an optimization algorithm for calculating trajectories that minimize energy consumtion by the robot. This is possible by choosing trajectories that have less ascent than others.
This work is still on going, since many of the students involved in the first year, will continue to improve their projects next year. The goal is to keep gathering experience and technical solutions until we are able to actually participate in the contest. If you are interested in taking part, please do not hesitate to contact me! We are always in need for motivated students that like technical challenges!