It was one giant leap for Carleton University’s Planetary Robotics Team this summer as they travelled to the 2016 United Kingdom University Rover Challenge in Manchester, hosted by the United Kingdom Mars Society. Nine Carleton undergraduate engineering students competed with teams from universities across the world, including the United Kingdom, Egypt, India and Poland.
The full 30-member team comprised of students from the research-intensive Faculty of Engineering and Design and the Faculty of Science is organized into sub-groups focused on rover-related areas such as mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, software development and science. Team President Kelsey Doerksen notes that you don’t have to be in an engineering stream to be on the team.
“It’s really open to everyone,” said Doerksen, a fourth-year engineering student majoring in aerospace. “A significant portion of the competition is actually focused on geology, so we are always looking for more science students.”
The group has accomplished quite a bit since starting three years ago. At the time, there wasn’t a rover team at Carleton and a group of engineering students wanted to enter the NASA Lunar Robotics Competition. While the competition was unexpectedly closed to international entries, the enthusiasm for a rover team had taken root.
Earlier this year, the team entered the University Rover Challenge in Utah, submitting a critical design review video which explains the construction of the rover and how it would be used in the U.S. competition. Despite their efforts, they did not proceed to the next round.
“We were disappointed with that result,” said Doerksen.
But there would be a silver lining; the video attracted the attention of the Mars Society competition organizers in the U.K. The organizers reached out to invite the Carleton team to participate in the July competition.
Once there, the Carleton students enjoyed the enthusiasm and openness of the other teams. Designs were shared, and the support of the competition organizers was key in smoothing out a last-minute emergency so that the Carleton team was able to compete.
“Our rover got stuck in Customs,” explained Doerksen. “One of the competition organizers, who we had just met, was on the phone with FedEx and was able to get them to express deliver the rover to us the evening before the event. We worked on re-assembling it until about 5:00 a.m. for a competition that started at 8:30 a.m.”
The competition took place in a public square with the rovers completing tasks in sandy areas to replicate conditions on Mars. The team’s hard work paid off with a fourth-place finish.
The Carleton group was commended by the organizers for their high levels of enthusiasm throughout the competition.
“It was our first competition so we went there to try our best and learn as much as we could,” said Doerksen. “They were excited that we were excited.”
The students also chose to wear their Carleton engineering flight suits during the competition.
“Our team members are very involved at Carleton,” said Doerksen, “So we brought the flight suits to show our Carleton pride.”
It’s that community involvement that makes all the difference, from Doerksen’s perspective.
“The amazing thing about Carleton are the students and leaders who care and want to ensure a great university experience for everyone,” she said. “My undergrad experience has been the best and I never thought I would get the opportunity to drive rovers around Europe.”
The team is already looking ahead to future opportunities and plans to return to the United Kingdom University Rover Challenge in 2017.