NASA hosts competion for automated mining on Mars

May 31, 2016

A look at what the future might holding for the mining industry and the future of automated technology was on display during NASA’s Robotics Mining Competition at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida where students from the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, earned the top award.

The annual contest gives students from across the nation the chance to design, build and then operate robotic explorers in a bin loaded with simulated Martian soil called regolith.

Although the teams get to decide whether to give their robots direction by remote control or program them to work autonomously, the machines are tasked with collecting as much regolith as they can and then depositing it into a container, and all with a simulated communications lag akin to the one real robots on Mars face. The robot that gathers the most wins their respective category, NASA said in a release.

Participants across the board said persistence is the top skill for any squad to bring to the competition because the machinery, software and simply handling the unusual soil make smooth operations very rare.

The simulated regolith – which carries similar properties to that of soil found on the moon and Mars – was not chosen by accident. By using materials similar to what its own probes encounter on other worlds, NASA could see a new technology tested at the competition that can be employed on future missions as the agency works toward eventually sending astronauts to deep-space destinations including the red planet.

The event also is meant to spur interest in science, math, technology and engineering education by giving students a chance to lead and execute projects that take years or more to develop in the professional world.

Results from the competition are:

Innovation Award
The University of Utah

SSERVI Regolith Mechanics Innovation Award
Embry-Riddle Aeronautics University

Caterpillar Autonomy Award
1st - The University of Alabama
2nd – South Dakota School of Mines

Communication Award
The University of Akron

Systems Engineering Paper Award

1st – The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
2nd – Oakton Community College
3rd – The University of Illinois at Chicago

Outreach Project Award
1st – University of North Dakota
2nd – Iowa State University
3rd – Oakton Community College

Social Media and Public Engagement Award
1st – Iowa State University
2nd – Oakton Community College
3rd – The University of Alabama

Slide Presentation and Demonstration Award
1st – The University of Alabama
2nd – University of North Dakota
3rd – Colorado School of Mines

On-Site Mining Award
1st - Alabama Astrobotics from The University of Alabama
2nd – Moon Pi from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
3rd – Oakton Robotics from Oakton Community College

Joe Kosmo Award for Excellence
The University of Alabama


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