Teams from West Virginia University’s Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resource are making final tweaks to their entries in two high-profile robotic events.

Up first is NASA’s Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts-Academic Linkages or Robo-Ops Competition, slated for June 2-4, at the Rock Yard at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The team from WVU dominated the competition in 2014, scoring a record-high 99 points besting second place MIT with 56 points and Virginia Tech with three points.
Never one to set on his laurels, faculty advisor Powsiri Klinkhachorn, professor of computer science and electrical engineering, challenged his team to create an even better rover this year.

“In previous competitions, we used a rocker-bogie suspension system and chassis and decide to experiment with another option, a split chassis,” Klinkhachorn said. “This allows the rover to save weight by removing the need for four steering motors while still keeping in contact with the terrain by allowing the front and rear chassis to rotate independently.” The team also experiment with tracks vs. wheels in its design but, after testing, opted to stay with wheels.

One of the things that made the WVU team successful last year was the use of additive manufacturing or three-dimensional printing in the construction of the rover. Klinkhachorn expects other teams to follow suit this year.

“In contrast to last year, we focused on using rapid prototyping or 3-D printed parts in non-structural areas,” he said. “Our cover is entirely 3-D printed, allowing for an exact fit and easy reproduction should it become damaged during testing or competition.”

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 JSC 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.

Members of the team heading to JSC include David Cutright of Buckhannon and John Lucas of New Market, Maryland, and recent WVU graduate Eric Loy of Keysor. Students handling mission control operations in Morgantown include Maen Allaga of Damascus, Syria; Priya Misra of Odisha India; Jason Battin of Williamstown; and Brandon Johnson of Buckhannon.

Joining WVU in the competition are California State University, Long Beach; MIT; San Jose State University; University at Buffalo; University of Maryland; University of Utah; and Virginia Tech.

The following week, faculty advisor Yu Gu, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and a team of 16 students will take their robot, which is inspired by a desert ant, to Massachusetts to compete in the Sample Return Robot Challenge, part of NASA’s Centennial Challenges. The goal of the event, which will be held June 8-13, at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, is to design and develop robots capable of exploring landscapes in space without human control.

WVU was the only team to successfully complete level one of the challenge in 2014, which earned them a chance to compete for the $1.5 million level two prize in 2015.

The robot’s design is inspired by a Cataglyphis, a desert ant that is known for its ability to travel great distances and reliably come home to its nest. Its ability to return home, Gu said, will be tested in level two of the competition.

“In level one of the competition, the robot had 30 minutes to find and collect one sample at a roughly know location,” Gu said. “In level two, there will be 10 different samples at unknown locations on a very large field and the robot will have two hours to complete the mission. Level two represents much greater mission planning, navigation, computer vision, obstacle avoidance and mobility challenges to the team.”

The team redesigned the robot to make it lighter and more reliable.

“We redesigned all the electronics, replaced the grabber with a different concept and added a lot more codes,” said Gu, who noted the team has been testing the robot at locations both on and off campus, fixing problems as they arise.

NASA Centennial Challenges were initiated in 2005 to engage the public in the process of advanced technology development. The program offers incentive prizes to generate revolutionary solutions to problems of interest to NASA and the nation. Competitors are not supported by government funding and awards are only made to successful teams when the challenges are met.

Team members include Jared Strader of Clarksburg; Alexander Hypes of Lewisburg; Lisa Kogan of Toronto, Canada; Kyle Lassak of Loretto, Pennsylvania; Tanmay Mandal of West Bengal, India; Ryan Watson of Lewisburg; Rahul Kavi of Hyderabad, India; Alan Didion of Wheeling; Stephane D’Urso of San Giorgio a Cremano, Italy; Sean Patrick of Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania; Boyi Hu of Qinhuangdao City, China; Scott Harper of Spencer; Lucas Behrens of Romney; Matthew Gramlich of Hurricane; Edmundo Salgado Martinez of Queretaro, Mexico; and Nicholas Ohi of Morgantown.



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

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