It wasn’t all fun and games in the pits,
though. As anyone who has ever attended a
robotics event knows, some of the most frantic
and difficult moments happen inside this small
area. Teams make last minute adjustments,
charge up their batteries, and mentally prepare
for the competition. The difference between the
teams who have already competed and the
teams on deck is quite noticeable. Just a few
stations over from the celebrating Colombian
team was a team preparing for their impending
round. They shifted nervously as they tested their
robot just one last time before going off to face
The amount of time and energy the
teams put into the competition is
astounding. The teams spend months
preparing for Lunabotics, and travel
thousands of miles to compete. It takes a
physical toll on the students. If you look
closely at this picture of students from
South Korea’s Hanyang University, you
can see one of the other members of the
team asleep on the plywood floor in the
background. No one said it would be
easy, but for the students at Hanyang
University competing at Lunabotics was
well worth a little sleep deprivation.
The students from Hanyang University traveled about 7,500 miles
across the Pacific Ocean and the Continental United States to make it
to Cape Canaveral. They first learned about Lunabotics from a
professor, who read about the competition on the Internet through his
interest in NASA and space exploration. The team decided to
participate in Lunabotics for their senior design project which —
according to team member Min Yong Lee — they expect to earn a very
good grade on. The team chose an auger design for their bot. They
clearly focused on the bot’s appearance as well as function, painting
the auger, wheels, and other hardware a sleek red.
Buckets, and Augers,
and Conveyors, Oh My!
Three main robot designs have emerged out of the
Lunabotics competitions. The bucket design works like a bull
dozer, using a large scoop to collect the simulated regolith.
The auger uses a screw design to pull the lunar soil up into a
collection area. The conveyor transports lunar soil up onto a
All three of these designs are inspired from real world
applications. The advantages of the bucket are clear. This is a
commonly used design for moving sediment on construction
sites. It is a simple design which means less room for
mechanical failures. However, this design requires constant
trips to the deposit area.
By using an onboard storage area, conveyors and augers
eliminate this problem. They also tend to look a lot more
impressive than the simplistic bucket designs. As a result,
however, they are more often plagued by technical problems
than their scooping counterparts.
Augers have a tendency to become clogged with regolith.
They do tend to stir up less dust than either the conveyor or
the bucket design, though. This is important at Lunabotics
because stirring up the fine lunar regolith can cause problems
for bots, as well as cause point deductions.
As you can see, choosing a design style is a tricky
business, with teams often starting and then scrapping designs
as they wade through the many options. The winners of the
mining competition have so far been conveyor designs but, of
course, there’s a lot more to winning than simply choosing a
design. It takes a good design, skilled driving, practice, and a
little luck to take home the first place prize.
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