Friday, June 14, 2013

University Rover Challenge 2013

Mike Stoltz, Mars Society's Director of Media & Public Relations posted a video of highlights from the University Rover Challenge 2013 held at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah.

The University Rover Challenge challenges teams of science and engineering students to build a rover for a theoretical Mars mission. Each rover must meet a weight requirement and be remotely controlled by the students.

From May 30 to June 1, teams from the United States, Canada, Poland, and India competed on several courses meant to test their rover’s designs and technology in a quest for bragging rights and a winner-takes-all $5,000 cash prize. The challenges included navigating through gates over varied terrain, dropping science packages at designated sites, and excavating material that could be analyzed for signs of life.

Some teams were funded by large corporations like Boeing and Microsoft while others, like the SRM University team from India, had a total budget of $4,000. This included the cost of building the rover and travel for the more than half dozen of its members. While other teams’ rovers had state-of-the-art suspension and power systems, SRM showed up with a batch of radio controlled car batteries and electrical tape.

But overcoming these challenges was the point to the competition. If rovers are going to assist humans in the exploration of Mars, communication system and structural reliability will be critical. That, and probably a healthy dose of electrical tape.

This robot competition happened the week after Judd, Eric, Forest, and Scott finished their closing Mars NorCal engineering crew rotation and prepared our research rover Sandstorm for transport back to the Bay Area.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Maker Faire 2012

The NorCal Mars Society chapter attended the 2012 Maker Faire in San Mateo and set up an exhibit booth for the rover project. The faire was bustling with activity this year and there were lots of people stopping by our booth to discuss our rovers and our chapter.

Our Phoenix rover, despite some technical difficulties due to WiFi interference, was operational and we gave visitors to our booth the opportunity to drive it around the nearby walkway. We had a nearly constant line of kids waiting for their chance to drive the rover.

We had a great time at the Maker Faire this year and look forward to coming back next year with another rover exhibit booth.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Mars, Rovers, The NorCal Chapter

Members of the NorCal Chapter attended for the second time in a row the Maker Faire event in San Mateo, California. Its an event which always brings together a large number of technology and tinkering enthusiasts and seasoned professionals who share a passion for making things. We had a presence together with our NASA Ames colleagues. The rover display attracted many visitors, and initiated a number of conversations revolving around rover hardware and software and the exploration of Mars, future missions on it, and the prospects of one day landing a human mission and building a settlement. For now, we fill our time in exploring different scenarios, mission configurations and software revision on Earth based Mars analogs.

Our chapter member Jon Cox gives a brief overview of the chapter and our current work in the video shot at the Maker Faire.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Meyerholz Elementary School Presentation

NorCal Mars Society members Jon Cox and Scott Davis presented the Sandstorm rover at Meyerholz Elementary School in San Jose on October 5th, 2011. Scott gave a presentation to an audience of third and fifth-grade students about the planet Mars and how astronauts may someday use robot rovers to assist them in exploring it. The students had been studying the solar system and were very excited about Mars. Sandstorm then drove out and greeted the students. The rover's camera view was projected on the screen for the students to see. Miss Peng's third-grade class was able to stay after the presentation and each student got a chance to operate the rover. Special thanks to Sylvia Leong for inviting us and helping organize the presentation.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Science Alliance Showcase

Members of the NorCal MS Chapter (Jon Cox, Scott Davis, Boris Debic) took part in the Science Alliance Showcase event at the Warm Springs elementary School in Freemont. It was a full day event with several in-class presentations and rover demonstrations finishing off with a "Why go to Mars?" (And why study engineering and science) lecture for students at the end of the day. After getting the rovers back with fresh data from the MDRS deployment in the Utah desert it was a fitting followup in our outreach activites program. Here's in Clyde Mann's own words:

"Our students had the opportunity to hear about and see the Norcal Mars Rover Project present throughout the day. The presentation was to over 800 students, cluminating in a big school assembly at the end of the day. I was fortunate to see parts of the final presentation. It was hot and sweaty in our multi-purpose room, yet Boris Debic singlehandedly kept the students illuminated and attentive by his fantastic sense of humor, and the idea that we are explorers and will always look for new frontiers. Celebrities, politicians (not statesmen), fortune 500 CEO’s, and Venture Capitalists don’t move me. What you brought to the students was truly inspiring. All I can say is that the next day, students with their eyes bulging out in excitement, could not stop talking about the presentation and loved the rovers."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Zzyzx Spaceward Bound Trip (March 28th - April 2nd, 2010)

I've returned from a week-long trip to Zzyzx, CA with other members of the rover team and participants in the NASA Spaceward Bound project. Our group included a number of educators, scientists, and science students who worked on several different science projects during the week, such as science balloons, lava tube caving, and underwater microscopy. Our rover team provided one of the science projects with the participants operating the rovers out in different field environments each day. We operated on and around old lava flows, inside a lava tube, on a dry lake salt flat, and at night using a light attached to the rover's camera turret.

One of the highlights from the trip having the 5th grade students from Rob Palassou's Science Club from San Francisco operate one of the rovers at Zzyzx. They were broken up into teams of two students, where one team would hide an orange road cone within a bounded area, and another team would have ten minutes to search for it using the rover. The rover operating team were located in a nearby building and could only use the rover's camera to find the cone. The teams were cycled through so all the kids had a chance to hide and also search for the cone. Of the seven teams, two were successful at finding the cone target. All of the kids seemed to really enjoy the experience.

One the last day of the field operations, we set up a boom WIFI antenna on a hill at the Zzyzx science station and drove one of the rovers out on the dry lake salt flats to see how far it could get before the communication became too weak. The rover made it about half a mile away from base before it lost communication and we had to trudge out onto the muddy salt flats to retrieve it.

NASA Spaceward Bound Trip Info

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Rovers Delivered

The Mars Society NorCal chapter held its regular monthly meeting on August 16th, it was a very special meeting, the group was joined by Andrew Klofas from Senseta who delivered the assembled project rovers! The delivery was preceded by a formal review and acceptance of the hardware by Dr. Chris McKay, planetary scientist at NASA Ames, and the NASA Ames procurement team at a demo held at the CMU/Senseta robotics lab staff on July 27th. The acceptance demo included software and hardware demonstrations and a discussion on applications of the rovers at the MDRS, for educational outreach, and astrobiology/geology field science.

The NorCal team is now ramping up its activities around the rover project, members are engaged in setting up and helping develop the rover's kernel core and controle console software. This is now an open source project and a post on it will be published in the coming weeks. Delivery of the rovers will be followed by more testing both locally and again in the Mojave desert. Of primary importance is to gather more data on the performance of the wifi network components as remaining purchases of communications equipment rely on this data. Mechanical testing will give us the final data needed in order to complete the design of the facility (rover base) which will eventually house the rover while deployed at Mars Society's MDRS research station in Utah. Also the team is setting up the infrastructure for sharing future documents and information related to the rover project online with current and future collaborators and educators. As the rovers will also take part in a science and engineering outreach program in Bay Area schools we are ramping up activites related to documentation and presentation materials.

Lastly, a word of caution to those of you embarking into projects, or their management, involving government organizations trying new modes of cooperation with industry and advocacy and non-governmental groups. Budget extra time for the project. We have seen a string of delays which were generally caused by organizations trying to accomplish or process things outside their usual operational comfort zone. While always having support of dedicated individuals, it was several time necessary to readjust the initial project plan and in order to stay inline with established procedures, even though often some of these seemed out of proportion relative to the modest project budget. On the other hand, the extra time it took to get to this point was not all lost. Some of it was recouped by newer and more affordable communications technology which we conciously decided to purchase only once the rovers are delivered. This is possible as we are a nimble group and can handle changes in the project, this ability of course decreases as groups involved grow in size.

In any case, the equipment arrived and our group is excited to get rolling with all the ideas we discussed over the last several months. We are open to contributors and cooperation with other groups and individuals in science and education fields. For further information please contact the NorCal chapter of the Mars Society.

MS NorCal chapter members with the project rovers