Lt. Col. Jeremy Anfinson noticed something missing when he saw a photo of West Virginia University’s Lunabotics team – his students.

A WVU Air Force ROTC professor, Anfinson shared the photo with his class and did a little recruiting.

The result? Anfinson says around 10-15 Air Force ROTC cadets have joined WVU’s team, formerly composed entirely of students in the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.

“We’re all pretty excited about this,” Anfinson said. “It’s the first time that cadets from this detachment of the ROTC have stepped out from their comfort zone and engaged in a competition like this.”

The influx of ROTC students will nearly double the size of the team, which finished third from among 46 teams from all over the world at last year’s competition. It was WVU’s first year in the contest, which included teams from University of Alabama, Auburn, Colorado School of Mines, Florida State, University of Illinois, Iowa State University, University of North Dakota and Virginia Tech. Top honors in the competition went to Laurentian University in Ontario, Canada.

The goal was for students to design and build a remote controlled or autonomous excavator called a lunabot, to determine which could collect the most simulated lunar soil within 15 minutes. The complexities of the challenge include the abrasive characteristics of the simulant, the weight and size limitations of the lunabot and the ability to control the lunabot from a remote control center.

Despite getting a late start in their planning, the team finished third in the mining competition, third in the bandwidth efficiency competition and earned honorable mention recognition for team spirit and innovative design. WVU’s team was sponsored by the NASA WV Space Grant Consortium, WVU College of Engineering and Mineral Resources and the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering.

This year’s mission is slightly different: Scoring will not be based primarily on the amount of material excavated in the allotted time but instead will require teams to consider a number of design and operation factors such as dust tolerance and projection, communications, vehicle mass, energy/power required, and level of autonomy.

Despite the challenge, Candy Cordwell, program coordinator of the NASA WV Space Grant Consortium, thinks with the addition of ROTC students, and a year’s experience under its belt, WVU has a good chance to improve on last year’s performance.

“Collaborating with the ROTC students is definitely a ‘win-win’,” Cordwell said. “We’ve got an amazing group of students and they’ve got an excellent chance to bring home a victory for WVU.”

Anfinson said the competition will teach students a variety of skills, including problem solving, team work, project management and engineering development while exposing those who may be interested in an Air Force career to engineering options such as propulsion, air craft design, research and spacecraft design.
“There are many benefits to being in a program like this,” Anfinson said. “One experience I want them to get out of it is to recognize the different types of educational backgrounds people have and how to integrate their expertise into an effective team. I want them to be able to converse with each other and understand the different perspectives of a team while working on a technologically-related project.”

Not all the participants are engineers, however. Anfinson said some students will help with publicity, community relations and, most importantly, science, technology and math education efforts. He said team members will promote their project to area schools and organizations like the boy scouts and girl scouts.
The competition, which is May, 2012 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, includes teams from the U.S. and all over the world.

Cordwell said representatives from the WV Space Grant Consortium office will be on site to help with event registration and various competition-related activities



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