Engineering students among top performers at NASA’s Human Exploration Rover Challenge
Above: Members of Arizona State University’s Human Exploration Rover team pose in front of their rover, which propelled the team to a finish 20 places higher than it achieved at 2015’s NASA’s Human Exploration Rover Challenge at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Pictured from left to right, substitute female team driver Tiler Rose, engineering students Ricardo Guy, Benjamin Mecham, Ismael Garcia, Alexander Mobley and team advisor Assistant Professor Adam Carberry. Photo courtesy of Adam Carberry/ASU
Four students from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering traveled to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama to compete in NASA’s Human Exploration Rover Challenge, which promotes research and development of new mobility technologies for crewed missions to other worlds.
The team returned after competing last year and improved their standing by 20 places in their second outing at the event.
The challenge tasks teams with designing and constructing a human-powered rover capable of completing a half-mile course that simulates extraterrestrial terrain.
In addition to navigating through craters, boulders and crevasses, teams were required to bring their unassembled rover to the starting line to construct prior to the navigating the course.
Once the rovers were readied for racing and evaluated for safety, a two-person team of one female and one male set off through the half-mile simulated extraterrestrial landscape.
The fastest combined assembly and course competition times determined the winning teams. ASU finished 13th out of 49 colleges and universities from across the nation, as well as international collegiate teams from Puerto Rico, India, Mexico, Germany and Colombia.
Engineering student and club president Briggs Farnsworth, the only returning team member from last year, said he is proud of the group’s accomplishments.
“[That] goes beyond the position we finished in,” said Farnsworth. “This year we had several individuals who had taken the time to design a rover to be proud of in every detail.”
The team also included Polytechnic School engineering students Benjamin Mecham, Alexander Mobley, Ismael Garcia and Ricardo Guy. Rounding out the team was Brianna Fornes, who was unable to attend the event, leaving the team short of the required female rover operator. In the spirit of collaboration, the team recruited Tiler Rose, a student from Southwestern Oklahoma State University to serve as a surrogate, ensuring ASU’s eligibility to compete.
“This was a major extracurricular learning experience for the team,” said the team’s advisor, Adam Carberry, an assistant professor of engineering.
The team began gathering students and designing the rover last fall, though most of the construction was completed in the weeks leading up to the event.
“Those who did put in the hours were able to learn a lot of technical hands-on skills that expanded what they are learning in their courses,” added Carberry.
Though the team’s performance was a significant improvement over last year, the students are already looking for ways to advance their position in the next competition.
“Next year’s design will be more of an evolution than revolution,” said Mecham. “According to the challenge rules, a minimum of 50 percent of the combined total structure and systems have to be modified or replaced from year to year.”
The team will retain the rover’s overall design, but improve the sections that hindered performance. They also plan to shed some weight for a lighter, more nimble rover.
“We have identified key components that need to be improved,” said Guy, who noted that the next iteration of the team’s rover will feature better wheel hubs, gear box, steering and seat brackets.
The team would like to compete in more aspects of the event next year and grow the team.
“Given that we plan to participate in the additional challenges next year, we can draw in more students who are looking for something to work on other than just the rover itself,” added Mobley. “Another possible competition is a telemetry tracker, that might draw in some of the more electrically-minded students.”
Though the next competition is a ways off, the team is staying busy with not only their rover but also becoming an official Fulton Schools Club and fundraising as well. The team expects to submit their application by the end of the semester.
Currently registered with ASU as the Human Exploration Rover Club, the team is taking lessons learned from this year’s competition to heart.
“This year we learned that you cannot start early enough designing and manufacturing your rover,” said Farnsworth. “I see the potential in the ASU student body to make our team a top 10 team [next year].”
In addition to using this year’s experience to improve their performance next year, the benefit of gaining hands-on engineering experience wasn’t lost on the students either.
“One of the best methods of learning is doing, and that is something we accomplished in spades,” said Mobley.
For more information about ASU’s Human Exploration Rover Club or to get involved, visit their OrgSnyc page.
Pete Zrioka, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering