URC Release, Hanksville, UT, 06.05.12
The sixth annual rendition of the University Rover Challenge (URC), which ran from May 31 to June 2, offered plenty of excitement and intense competition before crowning a two-time champion. York University, who also won URC2009, seized the title by outlasting their competition, which came in the form of other rovers, as well as the desert heat and high winds. Brigham Young University (BYU) and Cornell University took second and third place, respectively, to round out the podium.
Held every year at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS), near Hanksville, Utah, URC tasks student teams with building rovers designed to assist astronauts on future human missions to Mars. URC2012 may well go down in the books as the most difficult rover competition ever hosted. Rule changes focused on complex robotic manipulation, as well as one subtle change to the Astronaut Assistance Task that placed an emphasis on autonomous vehicle operations (a first for any URC task). Before the field competition even began, the field of ten teams was cut in half to five who were able to finish their complex systems in time.
The final field of five finished with the closest
point spread of any previous event. Just
65 points, out of 500 possible, stood between first place and fifth place. The University of Michigan and the Wroclaw
University of Technology from Poland were in close contention with Cornell
University for the final podium spot, highlighting the high level of
competition. The champions from York
University were themselves only able to pull off an outright victory in a
single competition event, that being the Astronaut Assistance Task.
Other events included the Sample Return Task, the
Site Survey Task, an Equipment Servicing Task, and a Presentation Task. The Equipment Servicing Task took its
inspiration from the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, who both
battled dusty solar panels throughout their missions (Opportunity’s mission
still continues). This task forced teams
to clean solar panels affixed to a stationary piece of equipment, and measure
the change in voltage output from exposed leads. This seemingly innocent task proved to be difficult for all of the teams except BYU, who judges say emulated a car wash's brush system in their design.
In the six years since its establishment, URC has engaged hundreds of college students from a variety of disciplines, including engineering, science and business, in Mars analog science and advanced robotics research. URC poses complex problem sets to students, requiring them to work in a team environment to build multifaceted systems, while developing invaluable project-based skill sets. The Mars Society and University Rover Challenge organizers, led this year by Acting Director Andrew Duncan, would like to thank the URC competitors, their supporters, as well as the URC judges and staff, for making URC2012 a resounding success.
[Image: URC/Eric Shear]