Earlier this summer, a team of 16 West Virginia University engineering students and one robot extraordinaire traveled to Worcester Polytechnic Institute for the fourth annual Sample Return Robot Challenge as part of NASA’s Centennial Challenges.

The students—and their esteemed robot, Cataglyphis—came home to West Virginia with the first level two victory in the competition’s four-year history and a $100,000 check for their historic performance in-hand.

Monday (Sept. 21), they were honored for their milestone achievement by West Virginia Senators Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin at a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol.

The students brought their robot to perform a demonstration of its abilities during the ceremony. They made quite the impression, as they were praised by Capito for making advancements in robotics in West Virginia that will shape scientific discovery for future generations.

“This history-making team of students is making West Virginia proud and paving the way for more of our young people to take an interest in science and STEM subjects,” said Senator Capito. “I applaud the Mountaineers for being the first team to ever successfully complete level two of NASA’s Robotics Challenge, and I’m optimistic that the technology they have developed right here in our backyard will contribute to the scientific exploration that is taking place now and in years to come.”

Senator Manchin also offered the team his congratulations for their innovation and making strides in the STEM discipline that will keep West Virginia on the cutting edge of space exploration.

“West Virginia University students and professors continue to make our state proud by pushing the boundaries and leading the nation in science, innovation and technology,” Senator Manchin said. “I congratulate our student participants of the 2015 Sample Return Robot Challenge on winning the Robotics Challenge and the $100,000 award. These smart young men and women are the Rocket Boys (and girls) of the 21st century. This is truly an incredible achievement for WVU, and I am pleased that West Virginia remains at the forefront of the growing STEM industry that will lead the United States in knowledge and exploration of space.”

The West Virginia Senators weren’t the only people impressed by the accomplishments of the WVU students. NASA leadership said the WVU students have paved the way for continued progress with discovering the robotic capabilities necessary to explore space.

According to Dennis Andrucyk, deputy associate administrator for Space Technology at NASA Headquarters in Washington, achieving the level two victory was an accomplishment that could only be achieved by a team encompassing the ultimate hybrid of strengths.

“The team from West Virginia University is the first team in three years to successfully complete level two of the Challenge, which was no easy feat,” said Dennis Andrucyk, deputy associate administrator for Space Technology at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “They had the right combination of strengths in software, mechanical and electrical engineering. Technology drives exploration and robotic capabilities like the Mountaineers demonstrated is crucial to NASA’s mission of exploring distant worlds robotically.”

The day of accolades was a deserving celebration for Cataglyphis’ team of designers who invested an arduous 18 months—even putting in over 100 hours per week between finals and the competition in mid-June—to prepare their robot to compete.

The students were guided by the leadership of Yu Gu, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and his Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources colleagues Jason Gross, Marvin Cheng and Powsiri Klinkhacorn, all of whom provided consultation to the team in the programming and design of the robot.

Gu said it was a day his students won’t soon forget.

“The students on the team worked incredibly hard throughout the year; to come away with $100,000 was a remarkable achievement,” Gu said. “To have that achievement recognized in such a high-profile event is simply icing on the cake.

“It is truly an honor to represent West Virginia and West Virginia University. I’m sure today’s event is one our students will never forget.”



CONTACT: Mary Dillon, Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304.293.4086; Mary.Dillon@mail.wvu.edu

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