For the fourth straight year, the team from West Virginia University has been accepted into the 2015 Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts-Academic Linkage Exploration Robo-Ops Challenge. Sponsored by NASA and organized by the National Institute of Aerospace, the competition will be held in June at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The WVU team, led by advisor Powsiri Klinkhachorn, professor of computer science and electrical engineering, is the defending champion of the competition.

“Each year, we strive to improve our program and our readiness as a team,” Klinkhachorn said. “This past year was a major milestone for the WVU robotics program and we hope to continue to improve upon our results, while exploring more creative solutions.”

Improving upon their results may prove tough for WVU. The Mountaineers dominated the event held earlier this year, scoring a record-high 99 points to win the competition. Second place went to MIT with 56 points, with Virginia Tech finishing third with three points. WVU was also the first team to use additive manufacturing, or three-dimensional printing, in the construction of its robot.

“Our plan is to continue the use of 3-D printing technology but we hope to refine the process,” Klinkhachorn said. “We also plan to facilitate a modular design that allows for ease of assembly and dis-assembly. We will also work to reduce the weight and manufacturing time of the 3-D printed parts.

“We expect the new robot to be lighter in weight but more powerful and even faster,” Klinkhachorn added. “We also think it will be a better hill climber and provide better traction in all types of terrain. As a team, we take pride in our innovative designs and I believe that our students can deliver an even better robot this year.”

The competition challenges teams to build a planetary rover prototype and demonstrate its capabilities to perform a series of competitive tasks. The rovers compete on a planetary analog environment under the supervision of NASA judges. Up to three members of the team (plus the faculty advisor) travel to Johnson Space Center for the on-site testing with the remaining team members staying behind at the local university to conduct mission control-type tasks.

The rovers are tele-operated by the university team and must negotiate a series of obstacles while accomplishing a variety of tasks including negotiating specified upslopes and downslopes, traversing sand and gravel pits, picking up specific rock samples and placing them on the rover for the remainder of the course and driving over rocks of specified diameter.

Returning members from the 2014 team include team leader John Lucas from New Market, Maryland, Jason Battin, from Williamstown, and Brandon Johnson, from Buckhannon. Newcomers to the team are Adam Blakeman, from Charleston, Barrett Dietzuis, from Woodbridge, Virginia, Alexander T. Hypes, from Lewisburg, and Bertrand Woeliczko from Holderness, New Hampshire. While they are new to the Robo Ops Challenge, Klinkhachorn is quick to add they have experience as part of other WVU robotic team efforts.

Joining WVU in the competition will be teams from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University at Buffalo, University of Maryland, University of Utah, Virginia Tech, California State University at Long Beach and San Jose State University.

The teams each receive a $10,000 stipend from NASA/NIA to partially offset the cost of rover hardware and transportation costs to attend the event. Additional support for WVU’s team is provided by the NASA West Virginia Space Grant Consortium, the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources and the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering.



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

Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.