performance. The University of Alaska
robot completed several successful
runs. Even more notable was that it
was one of the few robots to
complete a totally autonomous run. It
was arguably the best autonomous
run too, completing several trips to
deposit regolith. In comparison, the
University of Alabama also made a
purely autonomous run, but was only
able to make a single deposit in the
That is not to diminish what the
University of Alabama was able to
accomplish. This matchup marked the
first time in the history of the
competition that two robots
simultaneously made purely
autonomous runs. Both robots
showed the extreme growth
happening in robot design. The
University of Alabama went on to win
the grand prize, and finished third in
the mining aspect of the competition.
There is not a standard design for
controlling a robot. Many — if not
most — teams opted to use speed
controllers, allowing for a varied
speed and more control. The team
from Virginia Tech (sponsored by
Lockheed Martin and Polulu) forewent
speed controllers and used a "bang
bang" type drive system — one
constant all out speed. The robot was
steered with on/off automotive relays.
Every year, one robot tends to
stand out as the most impressive one
there. There is usually one that rises
to the top in terms of innovation and
creativity. This year's most creative
build was from Washington University
in St. Louis. Foregoing wheels or
treads, this robot used two corkscrew
pontoons to maneuver the robot. It
was based on an old Soviet tank
design. A motor is mounted inside
each of the pontoons which spins it.
The robot is capable of going forward,
backward, pivoting, and most unique
of all, sideways. The uniqueness of
this robot exemplifies the spirit of this
competition; the ambition and
creativity in design is impressive.
At its core, NASA’s robot mining
competition provides an opportunity
for students to demonstrate their
STEM abilities, and encourage that
side of education. A NASA sponsor
for a FIRST robotics team from
Creekside Middle School of Port
Orange, FL brought his students to
watch the competition as spectators.
One student was able to convert the
kilograms of regolith to pounds
instantly. Trivial as this may seem, very
few students his age are able to
convert measurements that quickly.
This shows the value of competitions
like this on the future of tomorrow's
doctors, engineers, and scientists.
SERVO 09.2014 37
The design from the University of Washington in St. Louis featured
a unique pontoon propulsion system.
Following a run, a robot gets vacuumed down to limit the spread
of the extremely abrasive regolith.