Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education.
Teams must also write up a systems engineering paper
— a common task in the engineering career world. It is a
document that states how the team will design, test, build,
and operate their system. It gives teams practical real world
experience in the career field they will likely go into. Other
competition aspects include an optional slide presentation
and team spirit.
Every area of the competition has an award and prizes.
A team could win the spirit section and be awarded a $500
team scholarship, win the mining competition and receive a
$3,000 team scholarship, or take home the grand prize of
the Joe Kosmo Award for Excellence and get $5,000 for the
team. The Joe Kosmo trophy can be gained by being
awarded the most points at the end of the competition
with the spirit, slide presentation, mining, systems
engineering paper, and outreach project report all being
worth a certain amount of points.
The great part about this competition is that teams
have been constantly pushed for innovation, because every
year NASA changes up the rules slightly in response to
increasingly better performances from the teams. These
tweaks force teams to change up their designs and develop
new ideas that drive new technological breakthroughs.
This year, they included the idea of mining ice, and
mimicked ice by including specifically sized gravel in the
regolith, with the gravel simulating the actual consistency and
weight of ice. Teams are responding to these changes with
new perspectives, and continually strive for the best results.
The first year of the competition only one team’s robot
managed to successfully mine the BP-1. The very next year
almost half the teams were successful because they were
able to build off the previous team’s progress. This year,
many of the robots were autonomous and were able to
mine without needing a person wirelessly controlling it.
NASA loves this competition because they receive new
innovations and ideas for real future issues from some
of the brightest engineering minds in the country.
So, how did teams fair this year in competing? Last
year, we saw the West Virginia Mountaineer team take
home the Joe Kosmo trophy, winning both the onsite
mining challenge and the outreach project report.
However, the Mountaineers did not return to reclaim
their trophy. Instead, Alabama University in
collaboration with Shelton State repeated their 2012
grand prize victory. Alabama took first place in the
mining segment and the slide show presentation, and
also managed to nab second in the outreach program
and systems engineering paper.
In addition to the Joe Kosmo Award for Excellence,
the Alabama and Shelton State team won the
Autonomy Award and the Efficient Use of
Communications Power Award. I had a chance to talk
to a teacher sponsor and a few students on the
Alabama team, and one thing is for sure, they all
exuded confidence. “We’re one of the teams to be here
every year of the event since 2010,” the sponsor told me.
“We’ve been competitive every year.” In addition to this
year’s and their 2012 victories, Alabama took home third
place in 2014, and second the year before that, so
competitive is a bit of an understatement.
How has this team managed to stay so successful
throughout the tournament? Well, the answer comes in
multiple parts. An obvious answer is that they have been at
this competition every year so far, so they have years of
experience over some of the rookie teams. Each year,
they’ve had a successful robot, and then been able to build
on top of that success. This explains how they were so
successful with the autonomy system, since they’ve had
Teams controlled their robots while isolated in the NASA
mobile command center.
A UCF team member runs
maintenance on their robot.
The University of Central
Florida (UCF) robot runs in
the practice pit.
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