Kent State Robotics Team Heads to Kennedy Space Center for NASA Competition
It is difficult to imagine how all the metal pieces and parts sprawled out on the floor of Kent State University’s Research 1 Building will eventually form a mining robot. But, the relentless dedication it has taken to design, create and build the robot might one day help NASA learn more about the materials on Mars.
“Pace yourselves,” said Dan Kish, an industrial technology major and president of Kent State Robotics, as team members pushed and pulled with all their might to reassemble their robot. “We’ve got a full night of this probably.”
For four months – days, nights and weekends – the team has been perfecting the robot with the hope of accumulating high scores in the NASA Robotic Mining Competition at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida during the week of May 19, 2015. Kent State will join 48 other schools participating.
“I’m incredibly excited,” said Josh Ishihara, an applied engineering major who is one of eight core members of the robotics team. “It’s been months and months in the making, and just to be here and getting ready to leave is an incredible feeling.”
The goal is to maneuver the robot over an obstacle course, similar to craters and boulders, and then scoop up at least 10 kilograms of basalt rock before dumping it into a bin to gain points.
The key to winning starts with the robot’s weight.
“If you have a light robot that only collects a little bit, you can beat a really, really heavy robot that collects twice as much as you do,” Kish said.
To simulate Mars, the team practices in a pit filled with feldspar, a powdery mineral that resembles the materials on Mars. The team moves the robot over the course by sending messages through a programmable logic controller, which is basically the brains of the invention.
“[It’s] definitely the backbone of our project for sure,” Kish said.
Rockwell Automation donated the programmable logic controller equipment to the team.
The better the communication between the robot and the controller, the more points the team gets. They also score points for community outreach. Prior to the competition, the team has been mentoring local homeschool students.
They say it has been an amazing learning experience for everyone.
“They have just worked relentlessly for almost four months,” said Simon Song, Ph.D., professor in Kent State’s College of Applied Engineering, Sustainability and Technology who serves as the team’s faculty advisor. “I’m very proud of them.”
“Classes, quizzes, tests – you cram and regurgitate and then it’s gone the next day, but this stuff is forever engraved,” Kish said.
After all their hard work, the newly formed team is hoping to not only bring home one of the top prizes – which range from scholarships, trophies and even Kennedy Space Center launch invitations – but also contribute to our nation’s space vision and exploration.
“It might sound weird, but I feel like the proudest father in the world just having this creation and going down to compete in the event,” Ishihara said.