The summer of success continues for West Virginia University’s robotics program as its robotic mining team captured top honors in the first-ever Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems Robotic International Space Mining competition. This is the fourth straight robotic event won by a team from WVU since May.

The invitational, which was held at Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii, brought the top five competitors from NASA’s 2014 Robotic Mining Competition, along with a team from Hawaii, back together for the competition. The competition challenges teams to build a robot that is designed to traverse a simulated Martian terrain. The robot must excavate Martian regolith, a sand-like material, and deposit it into a collector bin. Joining WVU in the event were teams from Iowa State University; University of Alabama; University of Alaska, Fairbanks; University of New Hampshire; and Kapi’olani Community College in Hawaii.

As has been the case all summer, the team from WVU went in with one goal: to win the competition. And since the robot performed so well at the May event held at Kennedy Space Center in Florida—WVU won both the mining and outreach portions of the competition—the team made only minor tweaks to its design.

“We removed the laser range finders that were part of the original design because we were not attempting any autonomous operations as part of this competition,” said team leader Tim Godisart, from Waynesburg, Pennsylvania.

The team’s biggest issue, however, came in transporting the robot to the competition.

“We use lithium batteries for our robot and they are very difficult to ship due to their risk of explosion,” said Godisart, a graduate student in electrical engineering. “We also had to build crates to safely ship our robot, which weighed close to 60 pounds empty. With a maximum shipping weight of 150 pounds, it was very difficult to ship everything we would have liked to take to the competition.

“We had a limit switch break during transit and reassembly, which would have allowed our scoop arms to attempt to drive themselves through our robot,” Godisart added. “Fixing this would have been very time consuming so we ran without the switch and instructed the operator to just be mindful of it.”

The luck of the draw was with WVU, which was scheduled to compete fourth. However, according to Powsiri Klinkhachorn, professor of computer science and electrical engineering, who serves as the team’s faculty adviser, the other teams were not ready to compete so the team from WVU volunteered to go first.

“Being the first team up is difficult, since the soil is still packed hard,” Klinkhachorn said. “As a result, we mined less on our first run while cultivating soil for the rest of the teams that competed after us.”

When the competition was over, WVU came out on top in the mining competition, collecting 517 kilos of regolith, topping Iowa State University. The Mountaineers also won the operations competition, besting the University of Alabama and the University of New Hampshire.

Joining Godisart and Klinkhachorn at the competition were Alexander Hypes, a mechanical engineering major from Lewisburg; electrical engineering master’s candidate Matt Grubb, from Winchester, Virginia; and computer and electrical engineering major John Lucas, from New Market, Maryland. Other contributors to the team include mechanical engineering major Adam Blakeman, from Charleston, and aerospace engineering major Barrett Dietzius from Woodbridge, Virginia.

Travel expenses for the team were sponsored by the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering and the NASA West Virginia Space Grant Consortium.



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

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