For the third straight year, a team from West Virginia University has finished near the top in NASA’s annual Lunabotics Mining Competition at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Mountaineers took second place in the competition for the coveted Joe Kosmo Award for Excellence, which honors the team earning the most points overall in the competition.

“With this year’s finish I think it’s safe to say that WVU is now recognized as having one of the top robotics programs in the country,” said Powsiri Klinkhachorn, professor in the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering and advisor for the team. “Our team was made up of some of the brightest students in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources along with representatives from Bluefield State College and WVU Air Force ROTC members. They worked throughout the academic year to improve on last year’s design and I’m very proud of their efforts.”

More than 700 college students representing 50 universities and eight countries came to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to compete in the competition, which challenges teams to create a remote controlled or autonomous excavator called a lunabot. During the competition, the lunabot has 10 minutes to collect as much simulated lunar soil, also known as regolith, as possible. Past winners in this year’s competition included University of Alabama, University of North Dakota and Montana State University.

The competition was not without its setbacks for WVU, however. On day one, the robot experienced an unexpected sensor failure, which caused it to fall over in the competition pit. Thankfully, the team was able to right the robot remotely, keeping them in the competition.

“Despite a stuck limit switch,” said Klinkhachorn, “we were still able to collect more than 15 kilograms of regolith, which was enough to qualify us for day two of the competition.”

The WVU team went back to the drawing board and, after several modifications, tore through the competition on day two, collecting a record-high 150 kilograms in its second run. The team finished fourth overall in the mining competition and second for the team spirit award. Top honors went to the team from Iowa State University.

“I think I speak for the entire University when I say how very proud I am of the team from WVU,” said Gene Cilento, Glen H. Hiner Dean of the Statler College. “Their dedication, work ethic, and enthusiasm are unmatched in this competition. They have brought significant recognition to the University and the great spirit embodied by our Statler College students for team design competitions.”

WVU enjoyed the support of alumnus and retired NASA astronaut Captain Jon McBride, who stopped by before the competition started to wish the team luck on its efforts. He also gave the team a “sneak peak” at NASA’s new $100-million home for space shuttle Atlantis, which will officially open to the public in late June.

The WVU lunabotics team was sponsored by the NASA WV Space Grant Consortium, the Statler College, the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering and U.S. Air Force ROTC. In-kind support was provided by the departments of mechanical and aerospace engineering and chemical engineering.

The team is not resting on its laurels. Many of the members also comprise the team scheduled to compete next week in NASA’s Robo-Ops competition, held at Houston’s Johnson Space Center’s Rock Yard.



CONTACT: Mary Dillon, Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources

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