UH Hilo Space Robotics Team heading to Kennedy Space Center for NASA Robotics Mining Competition

The competition is for university-level students to design and build a mining robot that can traverse the simulated Martian chaotic terrain.

Robotics team with the robot.
The UH Hilo Space Robotics Team. (l-r) Carli Hand, Joerg Michael Weber, Ethan Paguirigan, Daryl Albano, Derek Hand, and Stephanie Mapes. Photo by Marc Roberts, click to enlarge.

The University Space Robotics Team from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo heads to Kennedy Space Center, Florida, for the team’s inaugural appearance at the NASA Robotic Mining Competition (RMC) event running May 16-20. The competition is for university-level students to design and build a mining robot that can traverse the simulated Martian chaotic terrain. The team of six students officially represents the University of Hawai‘i at this prestigious national event.

The team’s mining robot (named “Spock” after a famous Vulcan), will collect and navigate avoiding obstacles to scoop Mars regolith simulant, then transport to the collection bin at the starting gate within a 10 minute competition heat. This open design event is crucial to NASA’s Journey to Mars as it is the first step in ISRU (in-situ resource utilization) where materials found in space are processed into needed resources such as oxygen, water, rocket fuel and construction materials.

Marc Roberts
Marc Roberts

The team is comprised of UH Hilo students Ethan Paguirigan, Carli Hand, Daryl Albano, Derek Hand, Stephane Mapes and Michael Weber with faculty team leader Marc Roberts.

Roberts is a lecturer in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, the physics lab coordinator, and also works at the Maunakea Visitor Information Center running the Remote Imaging Program to ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center.

Collaboration with PISCES

John Hamiilton
John Hamiilton

The Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES) has been promoting college-level robotics at UH Hilo by sponsoring the Space Robotics Club for the past four years, and fielding an RMC team for the past two. John Hamilton, logistics and education/public outreach manager at PISCES and an instructor with the UH Hilo physics and astronomy department, is the club faculty advisor and an invited judge at the NASA RMC for four years.

Paguirigan has worked with PISCES as a pilot cooperative intern. Derek Hand was a field assistant with PISCES Google Lunar X-Prize field test with Team Puli from Hungary.

Roberts has assisted with the PISCES MoonRiders field tests and recent Mars Landing Pad tests.

A plucky team

The University Space Robotics Team has come a long way from initial designs, testing various prototypes and learning associated skills like Auto CAD, linux/arduino programming, machining and electronics, mostly via their extra-curricular work.

After a false start last year (their robot was not ready in time for RMC 2015 and did not make it to Florida), the plucky team regrouped and performed successfully at the local Robotic International Space Mining (PRISM) competition in July 2015 at a Mars Analog Site on Hawai‘i Island. PRISM is an extension of the NASA RMC with global participation, operations in a high-fidelity planetary analog site, and remote control from Hilo over 50 miles away.

– Adapted from an article in the PISCES Newsletter, with permission. The post has been revised with additional information and clarifications.

UPDATE May 6, 2016:

Kahuna doing blessing with ti. Robot on lawn. Marc Roberts in background.
The team’s robot was blessed on May 6 by Kahuna Nui Kimo Pihana, cultural practitioner and former Maunakea ranger. Marc Roberts is at left. Courtesy photo.