Martian obstacle course – ERC competitions

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

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The final of the fifth edition of ERC is fast approaching. In a month robot constructors, sector specialists and space fans will come to Kielce to meet at the biggest Martian robots challenge in the world. During this year’s edition we will be able to watch 40 teams from 15 countries. Just like last year, they will be competing in five tasks: four field ones and their project presentation.

This year Mars’s surface will be imitated by the Kielce University of Technology campus. This is where the Mars Yard will be piled up from more than two hundred tones of red soil. The course will remind the Red Planet’s surface not only with the colour. It will also include natural obstacles, craters and hills which will allow the teams to test their rovers in conditions modelled on those real ones.

One of the organisers’ key objectives is to support solutions that could be used in future European and international space programmes. Therefore, specific tasks have been based on roadmaps – strategic documents of future NASA and ESA missions. The tasks have been designed to exclude the luck factor, which means they can be completed only by rovers that are able to operate and resist changing conditions of the real environment.

What challenges will the contestants face?

  1. Science Task – The first task is to take soil samples (including one from a deep layer of the Mars Yard) by using any technique (e.g.: drilling) and secure them properly for testing.
  2. Maintanance Task – The teams must manoeuvre their robots to complete a designated route towards a control panel and perform several manual operations, such as setting switches to the right position, making electric measurements, observing control panels, etc.
  3. Collection Task – In order to complete this task, rovers must find and collect containers with samples from three different locations and then deliver them to a designated place safely.
  4. Traverse Task – The task is to find different points in the Mars Yard without using the image from the rover’s camera. Rovers should navigate themselves using only a map.
  5. Presentation Task – In the given time limit the teams must present themselves, their project stages and the biggest challenges they faced while constructing the rover. Team members also must be prepared for potential jurors’ questions.

The tasks performed during ERC are considered one of the most difficult in this kind of challenges – both due to high expectations that teams must meet as well as technical limitations. Rovers moving around the Mars Yard cannot use GPS navigation and their operators have no direct view of their rovers while performing specific tasks. This allows to maintain conditions that reflect those during missions to Mars as closely as possible. The challenge is a great opportunity to find best constructors who have real chances to work in the space sector as well as other high-tech industries.

Mars Yard not only for students 

It’s the second time during ERC that the Pro formula will be promoted. It allows professional space robot constructors who are not participating in the challenge to come to the Mars Yard. While moving around the Mars Yard they will be able to check how their projects behave in the conditions and how they deal with field tasks based on projects carried out by space agencies.

The Pro formula aims at enabling presentations of capabilities that more advanced robots have as well as integrating start-ups, companies, research groups etc. that work or aspire to work in the space

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