Welcome to the MAVRIC Blog for the University Mars Rover Competition 2010. We will use this page to blog about our competition which will be held from June 3rd to June 5th. So please check back here closer to that time for updates on the competition.
Day 2 of the competition started with us doing the soil sample return task. For this task, we need to send out the rover to points that we would pick. We had to have good reason though on why we picked those sites. For example, picking a dried up river bed or some other indicators that there might be life there. The rover then needs to collect the soil sample and then return it back to the tent so we can analyze it. Although some repairs were made to the rover the night before, there was some things that were hard to fix properly. We tried our best to get things going as well as we could, but once again we had issues with the tracks falling off the rover. In the end, the rover was able to drive out there, but was not able to collect a soil sample. However, we were allowed to collect a soil sample by hand, which we did. We then took those samples and used our microscope and also did a pH test on the soil.
Had the rover worked, we would have used the tube shovel attachment. This was a simple tube attached to the arm that would scoop up the desert soil. Although we could move the rover, we were still having issues with the arm. We then locked the tube in one position and we were hoping we could just push on the ground with the tracks. But when the tracks failed, we went to plan B with getting the samples by hand.
Below is a short video taken from our camera on the microscope. You can see some small particulates that are vibrating around in there. This is a pretty good indication of life. In addition, our pH test showed that soil had the right pH values to possibly support life as well.
We collected two samples, one which showed possible signs of life in the microscope as shown in the video above, and one which did not. But the one that did not we expected it may not show any signs of life. We then put together a short power point presentation showing the judges this evidence as well as pictures that the rover took of the desert that we used in our analysis. One other aspect of the event was to show a panoramic view of the desert, which we also did.
The last competition was the emergency navigation task. For this task the goal is to find a stranded astronaut and deliver the package that is Velcro'd to the rover. You are given the last known position and a general direction on where the astronaut is. This is also the only event that is timed, so the quicker you find the astronaut, the more points you picked up. As this was the last event, the rover at this point was really starting to show the wear and tear on it. The tracks were patched up again after the last event, however again, these repairs were being made with less than ideal tools and resources. We tried our best to patch up the rover, we removed the arm assembly to reduce weight and attempted to go out and find the astronaut. Unfortunately, we didn't get very far before the track on the left side started coming loose again. It was only a matter of time before the rover became un-drivable again. Although we had hoped to at least get some what close to the astronaut, we only got about halfway out before we decided to take what points we had and carry the rover back to the tent.
With that we concluded our events in the University Rover Challenge. Tired and hungry we headed back into Hanksville to grab a late lunch. We still had some time before the BBQ and awards ceremony so we drove back out to the desert. We had heard from the locals and others at the competition that there was a dinosaur dig that was just further up the road from the competition sites. So we decided to go and check that out. We got there and got to see a bunch of dinosaur bones and they gave us a tour of the site as well.
I should also mention that the desert was actually quite busy while we were there. In addition to the competition and the dinosaur dig site, Disney/Pixar was there shooting for a movie. We didn't get many details, but we heard from the locals that it was a mixed live action/CGI movie and was called the Mars Princess, or so we were told. In any case, we did get to see lots of Hollywood type people out there and even caught a glimpse of some of the props they were using.
By the time we got back from that, the BBQ had already started and so we went to go get some hamburgers and hot dogs. It was then time for them to announce the winners of the competition. The winner was Oregon State University, which had an excellent rover this year. 2nd place went to York University followed by the Magma team from Poland. As we started to pack things up, the three teams needed someone to take their picture, which I volunteered to do.
With that, the ISU team headed out. We were not able to get a hotel room in Hansville for that night, so we needed to start driving and drove to Grand Junction where we stayed the night.
All in all it was a great competition. Everyone on the ISU team had a great time and a lot was learned from it that we can use for next year. The ISU team is certainly looking forward to being back in 2011 and the other teams better look out, because we'll be back with an even better rover than before.
Today was the first day of the competition. We had a late start for the day as our first event wasn't until 10:00 a.m. This gave us a chance to do some last minute repairs and fixes to the rover before heading out. Our first event was the construction task, which I think was one of the hardest tasks for the entire competition. It also required just about everything on the rover to be working since we needed to drive and also be able to use full motion on the arm.
The team arrived to the event site early. So we were able to take the rover out and do some quick tests with it driving on the real desert floor.
We also tested the arm a little bit as well.
The rover was operating normally as we left the starting gate and started heading to the task at hand. For the Equipment Servicing task, the rover needed to drive up to a panel, read the instructions on the panel, and then based on those instructions flip switches, push buttons and also plug in a standard AC cord. Our rover was able to drive up to the service panel.
Once at the panel, the rover was able to use the arm which had a camera attached, to read the instructions
However, shortly after this, things started to go wrong. The arm swung all the way to the left and stayed there. Shortly after that we started seeing smoke coming from the motor control board. About a minute later the arm motor keeping the camera upright lost power and went limp, again we started to see more smoke coming from the rover. A runner was sent out to investigate the issue and of course discovered the problem. We decided to drive the rover back to the starting gate (we would have lost more points had we carried it back).
Once back at the starting gate we discovered that at least two of the H-bridge drivers for the arm motors completely burned out. We are not 100% sure what caused this yet, as the H-bridges are supposed to be thermally protected. Our guess though is that even with that protection, they got too hot and just burned out.
This ended the equipment servicing task. With that we packed up our things and headed into town to grab lunch. After lunch we headed back out to the competition for the second event.
The next event was the site survey task. For this task the rover needed to go out and find flag posts that were posted in the desert. Some flags were given and the rest we had to find. We then had to report where those flags where in the UTM coordinate system (1927 datum). We left the starting gate without any problems and started heading out to the flags. We were allowed to drive up to the flags if need be to get the coordinates and that was our plan.
MAVRIC encountered some rough terrain over there and this started to take it's toll on the track system. Although at first MAVRIC seemed to handle it pretty well, towards the end some support structures started to give that should not have. The track then started coming off and eventually MAVRIC became stuck. Although we had to carry the rover back, we were able to identify a number of the flags and we were able to turn in a list of coordinates of the flags. However, we were not able to do the conversion to the UTM format.
After the event the team packed up and headed back to Hanksville, UT to do additional repairs to the rover and get some much needed rest.
My apologies for the lack of updates, the remaining days of the event will be updated soon. Unfortunately our internet connection was often just too slow or unreliable for even updating the blog let alone any pictures or video. We then were busy on the last day of the competition and I just didn't get a chance to update. The team is now back in Ames, I've been able to get almost all of the pictures uploaded and I'm working on some videos now. So stay tuned for some big blog posts covering the competition itself soon.
The team met with the competition organizers at 11:00 a.m. (MST) to go over last minute details. At that time we found out that 4 teams had dropped out and that a 5th one had not shown up yet and is assumed to have dropped out as well. This leaves 7 teams for the competition. Afterwards we drove out to the Mars Desert Research Site (MDRS) so that all teams knew how to get to the site. After a very short debriefing there, we were allowed to do whatever we wanted. We decided to look at the HAB unit and then took a few pictures near the HAB unit. Hopefully my pictures will upload tonight and will be in the web album I linked below. We then went and scouted out some of the competition areas (which was allowed) and also took some small samples of dirt. We then used these samples to test our equipment in detecting possible life which we were able to do, so we feel pretty good about our procedure and the science for that.
The rover itself is doing better. All repairs have been made including the arm which is now re-attached and is stronger than ever. We then noticed though that one of our lead acid batteries has damaged and was not working properly. We traveled to a nearby town (still 45 miles away) but no luck. By this time we really needed to report back at the MDRS so we could weigh in. At weigh in we got two pieces of good news. One, we are under the 50 kg limit (49.5 kg), and two the Oregon State University team was kind enough to loan us a lead acid battery that they did not need. We greatly appreciate OSU in letting us borrow one of their batteries. With that, we went back to work on some last minute refinements on the rover which is now looking pretty good again.
Tomorrow we will do the construction task and the site survey task. We get to sleep in a little as our first task doesn't start until 10:00 a.m. (MST). On Saturday we will wrap up with the science task and the emergency navigation task.
It would appear that if I have my laptop near the bathroom of my hotel room I get a better wi-fi connection (no, unfortunately I'm not kidding). So I was able to upload what pictures I have take so far and hopefully this trick will work for more to come.
The team arrived in Hanksville tonight and that in itself was a small miracle. While traveling through the Colorado rockies, we blew a tire on the trailer we were towing. Normally this would not be a big deal, but the nuts on the tire were rusted pretty bad. About a half a can of WD-40 later and lots of muscle and we finally got the torn up tire off and the spare tire on. Of course this set us back about 1 1/2 hours on our trip, but we finally rolled into Hanksville about 10:30 p.m. (MT).
I mentioned in my last post that we had damage to the rover due to transportation. The rover is equipped with a linear actuator that also holds other movable joints and motors that make up the arm. That snapped off from the main frame. The good news though is that we think it's repairable and even now some of the students are working on the repairs. In addition, there was a plate that was holding the single board computer and lead acid batteries which broke. Their were some broken connections, which we have been able to fix some of them but the good news is that the SBC did power up and appears to be working. Further tests on the electronics will be happening tonight and of course tomorrow as we hope to do more tests. Right now things are still looking optimistic that we can still compete.
Tomorrow morning we will be meeting with the event coordinators for a debriefing and for a chance to do some testing. We also will need to weigh in (all rovers need to be under 50 kg) as well. Our internet connection at the hotel we are staying at is a little flaky, but hopefully I'll be able to upload some pictures soon.
We left Ames today and started our journey to Utah. We made it to Fort Morgan, CO and stopped for the night. We then went to check to see how the rover had fared the trip so far. Unfortunately we did not like what we saw. The arm assembly that carried the linear actuator and the other arm motors had snapped off. In addition, the bottom plate which had the weight of the lead acid batteries also broke as well. As it was midnight Iowa time when we pulled in to Fort Morgan, we have only done a quick look over. Tomorrow we will further asses the damage and see what repairs we can do. At this point we plan to continue to Utah and we still plan to compete in as much of the competition as we can.