European Rover Challenge – STUDENT 2018 Rules
Questions & Answers
In accordance with the ERC 2018 Competition Rules: Q & A The organizer will provide ‘European Rover Challenge 2018 Questions & Answers’ as a part of the competition rules. All arrangements contained therein are ultimately binding – even if they change the competition rules. FAQ will be reasonably announced in advance and provided on the challenge website.
We present following FAQ below. This document is prepared in cooperation with ERC 2018 Judges.
If you have any other questions, contact the Challenge Contact Point (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Q1. With regards to this rule in the maintenance task: “presenting results from automatic panel controls detection and characterization. All or some of the parameters like element position, element type, element dimensions, possible actions, direction of possible action etc. should be presented on operators screen at least based on single picture;” Is the expectation that we will do this via image recognition or are the ar tags going to identify the type of control?
A1. AR tags will be provided only for general panel positioning and orientation (as a reference point). From the team, it is expected that using that reference, the system will automatically estimate position, type and other visible parameters of panel controls. Faces (pictures not in scale) of single control elements will be provided before the competition and could be used for type classification. You can prepare a database of your controls manually, so parameters like action type and action direction (depending also on control orientation) and others can be presented from the database as additional parameters to those obtained automatically (e.g. by vision algorithm). The whole exercise should be providing all the useful information for the operator and autonomous system which generally could be placed in operators role. The operator should have a knowledge which parameters were obtained automatically and which taken from database in case of jury questions.
Q2. I’ve noticed that cost limits are not specified. I was wondering if it’s a mistake or not.
A2. As an aspect almost impossible to check, financial limits were abandoned. We believe this change will bring more interesting solutions to the challenge. At the same time competitions were split into two tracks ERC-Stud and ERC-Pro and teams with more focus on delivering robust solutions where more funds could be necessary are encouraged to take part in ERC-Pro track.
Q3. Do you have a timeline for releasing the scoring breakdown for each challenge?
A3. Each task is independent and general level of difficulty is increasing with next steps in the task. All 4 terrain trials will be scored equally. Mastering trial elements esp entire chain of actions or single trial will be specially awarded. All elements allowing to present robust solutions to defined technology priorities will be awarded extra. As the task of preparation of fair scoring which could be used as a robust measure of advancement over the years (benchmarking role of challenges) is not trivial, we aim to deliver detailed scoring for your preliminary design phase starting after the registration period.
Q4. Is it like an option that we can automate the rover and complete the assigned tasks or it’s mandatory to automate the rover? How much will the score vary for automation?
A4. One of the main requirements for the mobile platform is that it must be teleoperable and generally, you can participate in the competitions with the purely teleoperated machine. All tasks are substantially scored for robustness and functionality means also robustness and functionality of presented (lightweight) hardware solutions (rover itself, drill, manipulating the device, tools/end effectors etc.). However, ERC aims to demonstrate highly integrated systems, so software aspects as often missing in a projects (including automation of tasks) could be highly scored.
Q5. Are there any restrictions on when a team must have formed for the ERC and begun development of a rover?
A5. Only restrictions on team formation time is that you need to register your team during registration period that will start soon and will last at least a month. Regarding rover construction, only restrictions are that rover design and development should be ready for next phases of the project described by requirements for documentation as part of the rules. You can start your design and development earlier and just deliver required documentation before specified deadlines (this information can be found in the appendix of rules and will be updated with more detailed dates soon). For ERC you can also use existing platforms/projects which meet requirements listed in the rules. Please be advised that this edition contains for the first time two tracks ERC-Stud and ERC-Pro. In case of second track, ready solutions, research, and industrial projects are allowed. Specific rules for ERC-Pro will be published to the end of January.
Q6. Question regarding the safety stop button: do we have to disconnect physically the batteries or if it’s ok to isolate them with a mosfet when the emergency button is pressed?
A6. Naturally, batteries can’t be separated directly by such switch so power elements like mosfets or relays can be used. However, in the design of your safety circuit please bear in mind all possible aspects that could influence robustness of the solution and necessary margins. Please get in touch with somebody with experience in such circuits. It is advised to use also mechanical main switch which should directly separate batteries.
Q7. Are we allowed to use internet services (such as Google’s image recognition API) on the rover? Such services could be provided in a Mars base environment but would be unaffordable or unfeasible for teams to implement?
A7. There are few points to highlight here:
1) rover systems should be stand-alone and shouldn’t use internet services.
2) organizer is taking no responsibility of reliability of provided internet connection (if any)
3) tasks are simple, requiring simple reliable solutions – For example, in typical task approach, there is no need for on-line learning systems as your system should be prepared (trained and tested) before competitions. For this part (preparation of your system before task attempt) you can use whatever technologies and services you want. However there are simpler, robust solutions and you do not need machine learning at all to solve given problems.
4) processing can be done on-board or on the ground station computers but data exchange should be kept to a minimum and on-board solutions will be favoured
5) for on-board/offline on the ground station calculations you can use any 3rd library you want.
6) all those different aspects should be clearly documented in you design reports
7) regarding real missions scenario for a long time internet connection (or local server farm) it will be unavailable or highly non-reliable (at least with massive lag)
8) if you are sure that you will not be able to deliver the different solution, you can use such services – you must designate that in documentation (RF form as well) and make aware task judge before you attempt the task. Please, be advised that you need to take care about internet connection on your own and your points for relevant tasks will be reduced comparing to offline implementations. Of course, all attempts of cheating can result in disqualification.
Q8. Similarly, could we use cloud services to provide additional processing power or specialized processing? (E.g. google tensor flow for neural nets, this would require an expensive GPU cluster to run locally)
A8. See above. All the tasks are simple and do not need clusters to solve/support but as stated above, for preparations of your system (before trials) you can use whatever service you like.
Q9. What is really meant by the term documentation or what are the technical aspects we need to include in them and how to send it to you guys (as a pdf file or else in what format)?
A9. Please read carefully Rules for ERC 2018 edition, section Registration. To register you need to send to the team’s contact (also specified in rules) all information required in the section (together with Proposal), preferably in PDF format. By technical proposal, you need to show that you understood all the rules and you propose a preliminary technical solution to meet requirements. As stated in rules, via proposal you need to persuade ERC board that you will provide interesting, reliable solution, that is realizable within competitions timeframe.
I can encourage you to get in touch with some university or company staff (it is a perfect opportunity to start cooperation with professionals) to discuss with them what typical project proposals should look like.
Q10. The weight of the rover is specified as 50 kg does it include the arm’s weight?
A10. Yes, entire rover system (including all (also removable) task elements, arm, end-effectors etc.) – rovers will be weighted just before each trial attempt.
Q11. We would like to enter the student version of the ERC competition; do we just send the details of our team to this email address?
A11. Please read carefully Rules for ERC 2018 edition, section Registration. To register you need to send to the team’s contact (also specified in rules) all information required in the section (together with Proposal), preferably in PDF format.
Q12. Would it generally be possible to compete in both tracks with different platforms, one built by students and second more advanced used in different competitions in the past, as long there are different teams working on those systems?
A12. Sure. With different platforms and teams you can participate in both tracks. Generally feel free to contact us in case of any doubts about participation in one or both tracks. Finally, we will review your submission and contact you in case of any issues we could see. Teams considered too advanced for student track or lacking expertise or readiness could be suggested to move between tracks or get some extra help during attendance in ERC programme.
Q13. Do you provide an elevation model? If yes can we get maybe one example (perhaps from the last years?)
A13. Yes, we will provide you with height map and as rules states, you can use it for navigation. However, the provided map is going to be a coarse estimate, rather present you obstacles than undulations of the terrain. It should be useful for localization and avoidance of non-traversable obstacles. Additionally, you can get more points if you are not using it. Please find below the picture of the map from 2016 edition and you can download it HERE.
In 2016 edition map was provided with georeferencing. This year it is planned to provide it in local coordination system. More details (with some example but data format won’t be different than one given above) will be given later during preparation and final map will be provided on the day before competitions.
Q14. What is the exact definition of a shape limitation, because the envelope can have so many different shapes.
A14. The size limitation is just recommendation not requirement. We are not going to test you against this limit, however you need to remember that all elements of infrastructure are designed with such rover size in mind so if you participate with much larger or smaller rover you can find it harder or impossible to solve all the tasks flawlessly. At the same time we are not planning to make on purpose infrastructure to fit only this size of rover – we hope that at the end any rover will be able to fully attend all the tasks.
Q15. When exactly pictures of maintenance task elements and collection task cache design will be available for teams?
A15. Data sets will be prepared on teams request. It is foreseen that for preliminary phase some general data will be provided, more precise one after preliminary desingn phase (after preliminary documents submission) and final ones about month before competitions.
Regarding cache, it is not expected that the design will be much different from description given in rules. Desing will be given on team’s request.
Q16. What are the goals of the autonomous task and what is it going to achieve? What functions should the autonomous system have?
A16. As described in rules, autonomy or automation of tasks in the Competitions are additionally scored and are optional, however for some tasks it is really hard to finish without any kind of automatic system/data processing. There is no particular autonomy task. The Navigation task is the one that needs most of autmatic controll design. It is about navigation and drive towards predefined goals (given in local reference coordinate system) in the terrain. Automation of rest of the tasks are focused on data/image processing and manipulator control.
For all tasks some additional elements are defined to make automation easier – artificial landmarks, refrence markings etc.
Functions depends on task. We tried to design your challenge allowing you to try systems with different level of ‘autonomy’. You can approach it from really simple (but safe for infrastructure and people) e.g. automatic behaviours like predefined sequences of movements but you can go step further and apply machine vision, planning, active control, support or remove operator from the control loop etc. to make your system robust.
As an example of ‘autonomy’ tasks could be automatic detection of controls on the panels in the Maintenance task or drive towards coordinates keeping robot on a track between starting and goal location.
Q17. What means:
– initial project assumptions
– initial technical requirements
– derived assumptions
– analysis of challenge tasks
– risk analysis and planned mitigations?
A17. Those are common terms to be found in literature, expert advice (we always encourage you to find expert that will be able to help you and review you work).
– overall project assumptions describe what is project for, how it sould be done and by what means; it is high level description presenting your general motivations and assumptions towards delivery of project results. This part suppose to be focused on general view on the project, not technical solutions and can contain definition of the environment, specification of the mission, challenges etc.
– technical requirements – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Requirement https://www.slideshare.net/julenmohanty/ba-conf-presentation-2010 – in short: this should be a list (typically presented in a table) of specific aspects what is required from your system to meet all the expectations presented in rules – this part is really important as it proves that you read rules with full understanding and you know what must be done. requirements should be tracked across the project (each requirements should have specific id) and ideally should create chain of requirement –> design assumption –> implementation feature –> testing procedure –> test implementation –> test result. This is a robust way to observe inside the team but by reviewers, that you implemented what was specified and it is working as it sould be.
– derived (from requirements) assumptions – this is (high level for preliminary design and should be specified further for later phases) proposition of solution for each requirement. In early phase it should present traedoff of different solutions and for later documentation should converge to one chosen for implementation
– analysis of challenge tasks – presentation of proposed metchod/tradoff of metchods to solve challenge tasks. You can think about it as scenarios for each task, containing short descrition of considered approaches of your team
– risk analysis and planned mitigations – another crutial element of any project – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Risk_analysis https://searchsecurity.techtarget.com/feature/Managing-Online-Risk – important exercise to think about most important elements of the project especially those that can fail it. You should consider non-technical (managerial, human resources factors, finantial, schedule problems etc.) as well as technical ones (application of wrong materials for particular elements, too challenging design, choice of not enough robust algoritms etc.) – it could be anytihng. Your task is to find key risks in you project, estimate what severity of impact could them cause if occur and suggest mitigations. This list should evolve over the project duration to extend that will be enough for you and your reviewers, proving that you have controll over project and you are aware what can go wrong and how to mitigate that.
Those are one of the key aspects of any project management (especially visible in high reliability projects like space ones) and we hope this are one of most important lessons you can take out of ERC preparation. As rewiewers of your documentation we would like to see that you are understanding those concepts, can build your project aroud it and you can present how those elements are evolving during project design and impementation.
*provided links are more like ‘first reasonable thing found on google’ than material that I believe is acurate and fully applicable
Q18. What is SBS and how is suppose to be presented?
A18. SBS (System Brakedown Structure) – general definition: http://www.sebokwiki.org/wiki/System_Breakdown_Structure_(glossary) – more technical, internal definition: is a high level diagram showing logical connection of work between different subsystem and components. It is mapping your project dividing it to working groups, responsible key-personel and at the same time presenting structure of work. Could be presented as one containing everything or Work Brakedown Structure: management and personel roles part (showing more development process) could be separated from architecture brakedown structure presenting logical connection between sub-systems. Second part shouldn’t be mistaken with architecture design diagram (later documentatnion) which suppose to present all data, power, mechanical connections etc. between system components.
Q19. Is it allowed to decide about order of samples collection? Is it possible that some specific order will be harder than other?
A19. Generally it is possible to suggest your own order of samples collection to the Judge, however it is likely that order suggested by Judge will be specifically logical for prepared environment, thus different one could be harder.
Q20. Regarding Science Task samples measurements:
- What are the analysis and measurements required for the soil samples that the rover would do in-situ?
- What kind of analysis is required after the samples are delivered to the lab?
- It is part of your task to suggest measurements that are valuable for somebody investigating soil samples in remote areas. You can focus on geological aspects but also on any other maybe connected with development of some sensory capabilities that is in interest of yours or your project partners – you can get more scores providing standard measurements complemented by more original ideas and at the same time useful for planetary exploration or other areas. It is also opportunity for you to bring to your team student from different field of expertise, get contact with expert or learn something new on your own. Those measurements/sensors should be documented in ERC documentation (preliminary and final in relevant state of rediness)
- Only measurements done on-board of the rover (without contact with samples) are counting to your score.
Q21. Can I use materials/rules/data/aspects of infrastructure design (e.g. design of the panels from maintenance task etc) in my research/thesis work? What about commercial use?
A21. Yes! ERC materials are protected by copyright law but we are really happy to provide you necessary information. Let us know if you need any support regarding ERC topics. Of course we can’t provide you data/designs that are not yet published. In return we would like to hear from you – let us know what and where you used for our records. It is also good to remember about good references – you can reference our rules by website like or you can ask us for information about published papers – as we have few already we will try to find one best suited for your work.
All other cases of usage of ERC materials should be discussed with us in case by case basis.
For any wider use (organisation of your own competitions, commercial use etc.) please coordinate with us first.
Q22. How RF forms should be prepared for preliminary documentation, especially in case when RF equipment is not chosen yet?
A22. In Preliminary Reports, we need you to include all elements of RF Forms with your requirements detailed for each point. For example – antenna diagrams need to be presented as it should look like, and shortly described including the goals you want to achieve – up to the stage when it would be possible to create the ideal case that you aiming for, showing your understanding of this matter and rules. Additionally, you should include the documentation all data that you have at that moment about all RF equipment you are going to use in your project.
Q23. During the Traverse Task several artificial markers will be placed on terrain, regarding to the rules “hi-visibility labels, unique geometric figure, alphanumeric sign or AR/QR tag”. What will be the form of them (file type/structure)?
A23. This information will be confirmed later on in preliminary phase but as we didn’t receive any negative feedback about design from 2016 we are happy to reuse them. Please find an EXAMPLE of the design from 2016 and we can provide you hi-res version on request.
Q24. If we do not use any Radio frequency for communication, if we use WiFi for communication, then do we need to prepare RF form for preliminary report?
A24. Wifi is a form of radio communication (on 2.4 GHz frequency) – most wireless communication systems are radio based. Even if by any chance you choose to use other form of communication (optical one or any other) you should also document all technical parameters of it or discuss your particular use case.
Q25. In requirements for second project report we can find note that some of the elements can be put to appendix. Does that mean that we can’t put it to the main document?
A25. All substantial information should be placed in the main part of the reports. Appendix should be used only for information that is supplementing main part – if your sketches, diagrams, pictures are too big for main part you can place generalised view there and full size information in appendix. Other use case could be to put to appendix information too detailed for main part but necessary to understand some aspects of the system (e.g. widely known knowledge, some equations solutions, description of methods to obtain final result of some analysis etc.). Remember that content of the appendices will be not reviewed separately from the main part and it can’t be use as extension of main part, what means that information put there will not be scored.
Q26. We will use wifi as our medium of communication. We will send -receive data and stream video through wifi. So, do we need to give you the frequency spectrum? If yes, how can we measure it? Is there any software or any other system?
A26. Yes, as wifi is undoubtedly rf communication, you should provide all specified information and it is your task to organise necessary support from your Uni or other relevant partner premises to obtain such information by expert knowledge, used equipment technical documentation (vendor contact if necessary) or/and some tests – this task is for you to gain knowledge about RF aspects and for us to check for potential problems.
Q27. What if we already submitted the latest version of particular section in proposal and we have no update for preliminary documentation? shall we copy this information to preliminary report?
A27. If you consider that proposal contains already the most updated analysis of any part of requested data (and you got full points for this particular proposal part), you can just simply copy it to the preliminary documentation – generally try to update your analysis based on new information and accompanying analysis during preliminary report preparation.
Q28. Shall we put our final solution to the preliminary document and what is the exact meaning of the word ‘technologies’ in preliminary report requirements?
A28. Preliminary report role is to present preliminary design of your system. By that, it means that we expect from you proposed solution for project based on requirements. For more complex parts of project, for which you have no answer yet, you should present trade-off of considered/SOTA (state-of-the-art) solutions tailored for your limitations (resources-wise and requirements-wise).
For all that, as part of information, we would like to know what technologies are you using to implement your project. That can apply to any part of the project – management technologies/techniques, software methodologies/frameworks, mechanical/electrical/electronically design and manufacturing, quality management etc. So basically ‘technologies’ here means ‘tools’ you are using to deliver project in quality on time.
Q29. How the sampling area (5cm diameter) will be marked?
A29. Place for sampling will be marked by different colour of soil.
Q30. How the multiple attempts to proof task automatic/autonomous approach should be presented? Is it possible to do part of the task manually and present automatic approach to only particular part?
A30. Yes, any way to present that particular required part of task was done automatically is ok. This must be performed from the clearly designated moment to full achievement of required goal (both agreed with judge before the attempt).
Q31. What is the exact meaning of “safety systems description”?
A31. Safety system description should be concentrated substantial information about solutions fulfilling safety requirements derived from the rules. It should contain (but can be not limited to) elements list and general signals flow(if already advanced enough it can contain schematics of circuits) , operational descriptions(if advanced enough if can contain time sequences diagrams – signals on vertical axis and time on horizontal ) , compliance with the rules, etc.
Q32. Does ‘ways forward’ applies to how team is going to collect money for ERC participation or is more connected to future business?
A32. Ways forward applies to ways how you are going to progress this project towards research and business applications. We are looking for realistic and concrete next steps in your plan of how to make your project useful for your university and generally for society.
Q33. We would like to know more detailed information about the trench excavation mission in the science task.
A33. The objective is clearly defined in the rules: “The trench should have minimum 30cm length, minimum 5cm depth and at least one wall steep enough to present clearly visible soil layers. These findings should be documented on a photo.” any method for digging which is within rest of the rules is allowed. As you can see we suggested only minimal size so you can make it any bigger. if you have any further doubts, please ask specific question or consult your foreseen solution with us.
Q34. Can the rover collect the soil samples by alternative method than extracting it as a volumetric mass?
A34. Generally yes. However, you need to show that such system can work in martian atmosphere (by analysis at least). Ideally would be (with good opportunity for you to take it further to the research later after competition) if you could do quick literature review/consult it with some specialist and suggest system that could be used in space (conceptually). some common earth methods need movement of medium or other effects which transport surface particles – think if effect would not be too week for Mars or maybe you can design some method to improve it. We are happy to review concept if you need but after you do your initial “homework” with other specialist/literature. Remember that you need to collect sample of relevant surface material so it could be of different density, grain size, and compactness/hardness.
Q35. Is changing the method of communication between the rover and the base against the rules?
A35. Until final documentation is submitted, you can change your project but please remember to clearly state that update in your documentation and prepare RF form accordingly. After final documentation is submitted you need to contact organizer to inform about any changes as soon as possible. If you would like to change your communication system during competitions (different method for different task or secondary backup solution) you need to specify both in RF form and describe your approach in relevant section of your documentation. You could possibly use dual communication system, but in such case, you need to manage this dynamically without approaching rover during task or at the start after task restart request.
Q36. What type of surface for locomotion of the rover can we expect? (Rocky / Sandy, Wet / Dry etc…)
In which environment will be held the competition? (Indoor / Outdoor, Area of the ground etc…)
How will you provide us with the initial and final position for autonomous navigation? (GPS / Markers to track etc…)
What kind of manipulations must we perform with our robotic arm?
Are there any other restrictions or limits that we must abide by?
A36. For most of your questions please review ERC rules (esp. Section 5.3) and faq document. Some additional information for 2018 edition: – all tasks will be organized outdoors. Some tasks will be partially or fully under tents. – most of the tasks will be organized on the Mars yard for which you can expect similar surface material than on previous editions. Some tasks not focused on mobility reliability (e.g. Maintenance) can be organized on flat concrete surface. – all navigation points Points of Interest (POI), your start position and goal will be given in local coordinate system relatively to origin so you will be able to simply calculate all the points relatively to your start position. – please remember that use of GPS is not allowed for competition and no georeference will be given on the maps – for required manipulations and other limitations please get familiar with rules, faq of this edition and visual material from previous editions.