University Rover Challenge Title Returns to Poland

The University Rover Challenge (URC) awarded the title of World’s Top Mars Rover to the PCz Rover Team from the Czestochowa University of Technology in Poland on June 2.  The 2018 rendition of URC hosted 35 rovers and more than 500 students from ten countries at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in southern Utah.  URC is an annual Mars Society competition which asks college students to design and build the world’s best Mars rover.

The defending champions from 2017, the Mars Rover Design Team from the Missouri University of Science & Technology in the United States, turned in an impressive performance, finishing in second place.  This marks the third time the team has finished on the podium at URC.  The IMPULS team from the Kielce University of Technology in Poland finished close behind in third place to round out the podium.

The international robotics competition for college students, which is part of the Mars Society’s Rover Challenge Series, featured an elite field of teams vying to build the world’s best student-designed Mars rover. A record 95 teams from 12 countries took part in URC2018. Following a rigorous two-stage down-selection process 36 teams were invited to the field competition at MDRS. 35 teams from ten countries arrived with their rovers ready for the exciting challenges in the Utah desert.

For its twelfth year URC continued the same tasks as in previous years (Sample Cache Task, Extreme Retrieval and Delivery Task, Equipment Servicing Task, and the Autonomous Traversal Task), but challenged teams with harder versions of several.  The most exciting task of 2018 proved to be the Equipment Servicing Task, which featured a custom lander designed and built by URC sponsor Protocase.  Teams and their rovers were required to load a canister into the lander, and conduct a series of complex procedures required to “launch” this lander from Mars back to Earth.

The PCz Rover Team capped their victory with a dramatic performance late Saturday on the Extreme Retrieval and Delivery Task, earning the only perfect score of the competition in that task.  During this task rovers were required to navigate across the arduous terrain surrounding MDRS to retrieve tools and deliver them to simulated astronauts in the field.  The last objective of the task required teams to ascend a steep and narrow ridgeline, bordered by harrowing drops on either side, to deliver a tool to the final astronaut.  This objective had already sent three previous teams either rolling or sliding off the side of the ridgeline to varying degrees of rover damage.  PCz’s unique frame began to slip as it neared the astronaut, but came to a rest with just inches to spare, allowing them to deploy the required tool and securing their championship performance.

More than 1000 students were involved in URC projects at their local universities during the 2017-18 academic year. The rovers they built reflected the dedication, passion, and ingenuity of the student teams, a point that was not lost on the judges and industry representatives attending the event.

The scores for all teams can be found at http://urc.marssociety.org/home/about-urc/urc2018-scores. For more information, visit URC online at: http://urc.marssociety.org, on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/universityroverchallenge), and on Twitter (https://twitter.com/URConMars). In addition, a full review of this year’s URC competition will be presented at the 21st Annual International Mars Society Convention (August 23-26, Pasadena Convention Center).