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Students' robots tackle tough terrain in planetary exploration challenge

Four FLC students got to experience first-hand the challenges of designing, developing, and building – and then presenting in public – a robotic vehicle for traversing the surface of an alien planet.

Students from the Physics & Engineering Department put their creations to the test in April at the 8th Annual Colorado Space Grant Consortium Robotics Challenge, held at Great Sand Dunes National Park. The site is so like an alien world, in fact, that it is where the two Viking Mars Landers were tested before their pioneering voyages to Mars in 1975.

The goal of the Robotics Challenge is to simulate automated robots on Mars, inspiring students to learn about electronics, programming, and design of crafts for a difficult environment.

During the event, robots tackle a 20-meter course with conditions including a range of temperatures, wind, sand, slopes, and obstacles - and the vehicles have to navigate and overcome those challenges on their own, through internal guidance systems, without help from the designers.

The design team gathers for the introductions before the competition.
The design team gathers for the introductions before the competition. 

Students check programming code in one of their robots.

Senior Engineering major Galveston Begaye, Senior Engineering major Alexa Flores, and Senior Physics major Andrew Stuntz check programming code in one of their robots. Senior Physics major David Liebel and Assistant Professor of Physics & Engineering Charles Hakes are not pictured.

Andrew Stuntz presents his robot to the other school groups. 

Andrew Stuntz presents his robot (with green 'legs') to the other school groups. He was the driving force on this robot, but it was a group project. This robot won the "Best Small Robot" category at the challenge.

One of the experimental robots wasn’t successful at this year's competition, but it'll have another chance next year!
One of the experimental robots wasn’t successful at this year's competition, but it'll have another chance next year!

The terrain at Great Sand Dunes National Park looks a lot like Mars.

The terrain at Great Sand Dunes National Park looks a lot like Mars -- so much so that NASA tested the two Mars Viking Landers here four decades ago.

Andrew Stuntz shows off his "Best Small Robot" award, with Brian Sanders, from the Colorado Space Grant Consortium.

Andrew Stuntz shows off his "Best Small Robot" award, with Brian Sanders, from the Colorado Space Grant Consortium.

Learn more about the Physics & Engineering Department at Fort Lewis College.

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