Laurentian University’s mechanical engineering students are preparing to defend their title at the 2012 NASA Lunabotics Competition, which is being held May 21-26 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
There are several new elements to the competition at this year’s event. This year, the Lunabots will score extra points if they are fully autonomous (not operated by remote control), according to a press release from Laurentian.
“It’s a whole new challenge this year, and everyone has to up their game,” faculty adviser and professor at the Bharti School of Engineering Markus Timusk said.
“It’s like a PhD project these students are doing, and they’re undergrads.”
Last year, Team Laurentian competed in an international field of 40 universities with a lunabot that proved to be the fastest and most efficient lunar mining module of the competition.
Each team was required to design and build a remote-operated device that could dig and deposit at least 10 kilograms of simulated lunar material called regolith within the allotted time.
The Laurentian Lunabot excavated more than 237 kilograms of simulated moon rock, significantly outperforming the competition.
At this year’s event, NASA has introduced new requirements and a new scoring system. In the LunArena, an enclosed competition field about seven metres square, the Lunabot will have to “read” its surroundings, according to Timusk.
“The machine will have to think for itself,” he said.
“It has to determine where it is, build a map, and navigate around craters and rocks in the field. To get the maximum points, it has to locate and then automatically excavate in the mining area, then navigate back to the hopper and dock itself, and then dump its payload. This competition is a whole new order of magnitude more challenging.”
The scoring system will also award extra points for dust-free operation and dust-tolerant design features, and will subtract points for weight — a Lunabot that weighs 80 kilograms, for example, will lose 800 points.
The design challenges are extremely ambitious, Ramesh Subramanian, director of the Bharti School of Engineering, said.
“The level these students are working at, the calibre of their design work, is really amazing,” Subramanian said.
“To be working weekends and evenings on a project like this, and to be solving mechatronics problems that are so difficult, is just so impressive.”
On its website, NASA said that it directly benefits from the Lunabotics competition “by encouraging the development of innovative lunar excavation concepts... which could be applied to an actual lunar excavation device or payload.”
Team Laurentian members, all of whom are fourth-year engineering students, will be posting a blog about the competition at blog.laurentian.ca/students.
Posted by Arron Pickard