Kent State Robotics Team Places Third in NASA Robotics Mining Competition
Being a finalist in the NASA Robotic Mining Competition is a remarkable accomplishment in itself. Placing third in the entire nation was a surprise and a joy to the Kent State Robotics Team.
“We were very surprised to place third!” said Madison Spreitzer, president of the organization from 2017-2018. “This year was the best we have ever done as a team for this competition.”
From November 2017 to the day of the competition in May, the Kent State Robotics team spent months preparing for the competition held at the Kennedy Space Center. The competition is designed to mimic the procedure of having a robot on Mars if sent there by NASA.
Along with 44 other university teams, Ms. Spreitzer and her team worked together to design and construct a robot that is fashioned to mine simulated Martian terrain along with the gravel below it.
One aspect of the competition that makes finishing third all the more significant for the team was a new and more difficult rule change from NASA.
“This year, NASA made a new rule change in which BP-1 regolith would no longer count for mining points,” Ms. Spreitzer said. “Instead, teams needed their robots to collect 1kg of gravel underneath the regolith within a 10-minute time frame in order to qualify.”
The Kent State Robotics Team robot collected a total of 1.2 kilograms, making the team one of only six out of 44 teams to qualify.
“The team had to design and build a mining robot to transverse simulated off-world terrain, excavate icy-regolith simulant and return the excavated material into a collector bin,” said Darwin Boyd, team faculty adviser, assistant professor at Kent State University’s College of Aeronautics and Engineering and a former research associate at Cleveland’s NASA Lewis Research Center. “The team was very pleased with placing third out of a strong field of 44 teams from across the country, including local rivalries Akron and Case Western Reserve Universities.”
While the competition sets teams against each other, a spirit of camaraderie was still manifested among local teams throughout the process. Fellow competing teams from the University of Akron, Case Western Reserve and Virginia Tech University have traveled up to six hours to take part in practice competitions hosted by the Kent State Robotics Team.
These practice events helped the competing teams prepare for the rigorous tasks ahead of them, as well as enable an opportunity for a wide exchange of ideas and knowledge that was not available within their own classes.
Aside from connecting with other teams, the Kent State Robotics Team benefited in numerous other ways as well, including gaining work experience by undergoing such a complex task.
“Many of the robots at the competition were complex and very intimidating, with designs such as augers, trenchers, bucket ladders and bucket drums,” said Ms. Spreitzer. “Most of these designs, however, were unable to function or unable to collect gravel."
The judges were thrilled with the scoop design that enabled the Kent State team’s robot to operate at a simple and light level, allowing excellent functionality.
At the end of the competition, the team realized that great engineering built on ease and a simple design was the key that helped earn them their high placing.
This prominent accolade does not mean the team plans on slowing down anytime soon. Members jumped right back into the intense project and preparing for next year as soon as they returned.
“The team plans to participate in the competition again in May 2019,” said Dr. Boyd. “In addition to designing and building the robot, there are many aspects of the competition that go on throughout the year.”
These aspects include community outreach, written reports and papers, as well as being tasked to keep up with the team’s social media pages during the competition.
In preparation for next year, the team is hoping to encourage fellow universities who are just beginning their involvement to work along with them, with the goal of helping starting teams grow and ensure a higher chance of success for local teams.
With a solidified third place national ranking, the team still has its eyes set on 2019’s competition, which will be the competition’s 10th anniversary, in addition to the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission.
“We are aiming to be in the top 10 for the competition next year, and we hope to bring along the other Ohio teams to the top with us,” said Ms. Spreitzer. “There will be a secondary competition in 2019 in which Buzz Aldrin will have the top 10 teams from the NASA Robotic Mining Competition compete against one another.”
The team also said it is actively looking for people to help run the social media pages including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Members would be more than happy to teach the individual more robotics if they were interested in joining the team.
To learn more about the robotics mining competition, visit https://www.nasa.gov/offices/education/centers/kennedy/technology/nasarmc.html.
To learn more about the Kent State University Robotics Team, visit https://www.kent.edu/csi/student-organizations/robotics and https://www.kentstaterobotics.com/.