York team wins the Mars Rover Challenge
published July 1, 2009
Taking the remote control car to new heights
From dust storms to extreme heat, the harsh conditions of Mars present a significant challenge to putting a rover on it. This is why space scientists and enthusiasts of the red planet agree, the rover designed by York University Rover Tearm (YURT) is very impressive. In fact, they awarded the team’s rover first place at the 2009 University Rover Challenge in late-May.
The challenge, set out by a group of space science and Mars enthusiasts known as the Mars Society, was to design a stand-alone remote-control mobile unit that can function without tethers. The rover designs simulate explorer units that would be operated by astronauts on, or orbiting around, Mars. Each rover is expected to withstand Mars’s harsh environmental conditions, including airborne dust and heat up to 100°F–conditions found in the southern Utah desert where the competition is held. This year’s competition even saw an electrical storm that temporarily halted the upload of competition reports to the Mars Society Web page.
The teams were challenged with numerous tasks designed to simulate what would be commanded of a rover on the Martian terrain, including:
- having the rover find and repair a loose equipment panel;
- using the rover to locate exact coordinates and communicate them back to the team;
- completing a survey for life using geophysical and biological assays; and
- performing an emergency navigation task that required the rovers to deliver a critical container to a distressed astronaut in the field.
The YURT team scored high marks in the survey task and achieved a perfect score in the emergency navigation task.
The York team is made up of both undergraduate and graduate students from a wide array of disciplines. Their win this year was an exciting leap from their 2008 third-place finish, which with a score of 289 points was more than double the score of the second-place contestants from Utah’s Brigham Young University.
“Although many of the tasks for 2009 were similar to those in 2008, the requirements and task courses were much more difficult this year,” said Kevin Sloan, director of the University Rover Challenge. “Despite how hard we made things for these teams, they found ways to accomplish amazing feats. All of the judges and I were extremely impressed at what these students have done. Now the hard job for the judges is to devise even harder tasks for the 2010 URC.”
YURT was the only Canadian team to compete in the challenge. Brigham Young University placed second and the University of Nevada, Reno finished in third place.