The NASA Robotic Mining Competition is annual event for university-level students to design and build a mining robot that can traverse challenging Martian terrain and excavate regolith simulant. The competition was stablished to encourage the development of innovative robotic excavation concepts from student teams which could be applied to actual Mars missions.
The Montana State University has being participating in the competition since 2010, when its students won The Joe Kosmo Award for Excellence. In 2012, the university team won the first place in the Systems Engineering Paper category.
In the Fall 2013 semester I joined the university competition team. We had a group of computer science, electrical, mechanical and computer engineers working on developing the mining robot and writing a systems engineering paper. I was responsible for designing and developing the laser-based autonomous navigation system.
Under the guidance and support of professors Brock LaMeres, Micke Edens and Hunter Lloyd, the team worked together during the Fall 2013 and Spring 2014 semesters to excel in all competition categories. Teams were evaluated on robot's mining performance, team spirit, a slide presentation, an engineering paper and public outreach.
While at the NASA Kennedy Space Center I was lucky to watch the launch of the Delta IV rocket launch and see the exhibits and displays at the Visitor Complex. I was also cool to see what the dynamics of initiatives that Blue Origin of Jeff Bezos and Space X of Elon Musk are leading in private space exploration industry.
It was an excellent opportunity to practice engineering skills and learn how important the systems engineering process is for NASA and other large organizations that build complex systems. I have been interested in robotics since high school and acquired valuable experience at the Robotics Study Group, been part of a NASA-sponsored robotics competition was for sure a rewarding experience for me.