The CSULB Space Sharks Prepare for Year 2 of NASA Mining Robot Competition

Student teams entering a NASA competition to build a mining robot can expect technical challenges. But in addition to engineering glitches, last year’s CSULB Lunabotics team had to contend with a government shutdown, sudden venue change, and last-minute scramble for funding.

Dehwei Hsu, the mechanical engineering senior who led last year’s FortyMiners team, said the robot’s design and development was already behind schedule when the government shutdown forced NASA to cancel the scheduled competition at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Teams still submitted reports and a slide presentation, but instead of the onsite competition in Florida, University of Alabama hosted a Robotic Mining Challenge at its Tuscaloosa campus.

“Instead of Florida, it was Alabama,” said Hsu, who was previously the rover lead for Long Beach Rocketry. “The only problem was we were funded for Florida, but not for Alabama.”

Alabama is among 11 non-LGBTQ-friendly states where California funds can’t be used for travel. In light of that, the FortyMiners scaled back their contingent to four people. In addition to raising money for the team’s travel, they had to secure $1,200 to ship the robot there and back.

The FortyMiners came in 26th out of 46 schools in the virtual competition. Of the 27 schools competing onsite, only nine robots ran, and three autonomously.

This year, the team has a new name (the Space Sharks), a new design, and 20 new members, drawn from computer science and aerospace, electrical, and mechanical engineering. They are assigned to subteams for drivetrain, excavation, and electronics.

Providing students practical experience in the engineering lifecycle, from concept development to system closeout, Lunabotics supports NASA’s Artemis program, which aims for a 2024 moon landing and sustainable exploration by 2028 as part of the Moon to Mars mission.

On the lunar surface, NASA plans to demonstrate technologies, expand commercial opportunities for deeper space exploration, and test methods to obtain water from ice and other natural resources. The water discovered at the lunar poles will be key to humans living in space.

The teams must present their robot and design philosophy at the competition, submit a systems engineering paper explaining their methodology, perform public outreach for underserved and underrepresented K-12 students, and design, build and compete a robot to simulate an off-world mining mission.

The robot must be no more than 1 meter long and 60 kilograms in weight. The goal is for it to run autonomously for 15 minutes, navigating rough and icy terrain simulating the lunar surface. Hsu said the Space Sharks are aiming for one cycle of autonomy, and remote controlling the robot for the rest of the 15 minutes.

The competition will take place from May 18-22 at the Kennedy Space Center. Lunabotics, formerly called the NASA Robot Mining Competition, is just one of several NASA student competitions. In 2015 and 2016, CSULB competed in the NASA RASC-AL Robo-Ops Competition to design and build a Mars rover.

The Space Sharks hope to bring 20 people—about half of the team—to Florida at a cost of $12,000. Participating in the competition is an intense experience. Hsu said team members who attend the competition usually end up staying on with the team.

Even with the team scouring the Internet for rock-bottom parts prices and picking up their aluminum from the M&K Metals scrap yard, the robot will still cost $4,000 to design and build. The Associated Engineering Student Body, the College of Engineering, and team advisor, Dr. Praveen Shankar, are all contributing funds.

But if the team hopes to reach its goal to send 20 students to Florida, more fundraising will be needed.

Rani Hanna, business lead on the electrical team, said he is applying for grant proposals and looking to local companies to supply some parts.

Last year’s team learned a lot about what to do when things go wrong, which is typical during a team’s first year of participation in a particular competition. The mechanical subteam had difficulties last year with the design. The delays turned out to be caused, in part, by a defective motor driver that kept burning out the board. But that left the electrical team with only one week to wire it up, and the coding team less than a week for testing.

The defective part was identified as the culprit the third time it burned out the board, but by then it was too late to fix it, since the robot had to be shipped.

“It seemed like the deck was stacked against us,” said Hsu, adding that he didn’t want to let their advisor down. “We learned our lesson last year, and that’s that you should design the whole thing before building it.”

Another challenge was that the competition was held a week before final exams. Hsu was accompanied by Jessica Crisantes, the mechatronics lead; John Cayabyab; and Spencer Jehlik, the drivetrain lead. To get help with the coding, they Facetimed coding lead Christopher Senner and electrical lead Alexander Littleton back in Long Beach.

When they arrived at the competition, the robot wasn’t working. Eventually, they got all four wheels moving—amid cheers from fellow competitors. Hsu said the FortyMiners used every minute of their pit time. After the pit closed at 11 p.m., they went back to their hotel rooms to study for finals.

The competition schedule was changed, leaving the CSULB team with so little time to get to the airport that they missed their flight. They spent a night in the airport waiting for a standby flight home.

“This year, the rover is way more complete,” said Hsu, who is serving as systems engineer on this year’s team. “It’s fully functional. The electrical engineer is making a printed circuit board. We’ll get rid of the rat’s nest of wiring. It should be a huge improvement.”

Participating in the Space Sharks gives students an opportunity to work on a multidisciplinary team, solve problems, and apply theory.

“When you join a student organization, you learn valuable technical skills,” said business lead Rani Hanna, a freshman electrical engineering major. Where are you going to get technical skills like this if you don’t have an internship?”

Hsu agrees. “I tell the new people—last year’s team got jobs. That gets their attention.” He describes his teammates as “a group of close friends willing to work with each other for long hours.”

For more information on the Space Sharks, visit their webpage at https://beachrmc.com/. Or follow the team on Instagram at csulb.rmc.

Mechanical Engineering Student Wins University Internship Essay Contest

Career Development Center counselor Jina Lee Flores and Noah Suraza
Career Development Center counselor Jina Lee Flores and Noah Suzara

Mechanical engineering major Noah Suzara describes himself as a self-starter. When he landed an interview for a cost engineering internship at Jacobs Engineering, he didn’t know the first thing about cost engineering.

“I had no idea what cost engineering was before my interview. I had to read up on it,” said Suzara, who was immediately hired and put to work on a $40-million Shell refinery project in Martinez, California. After that project, he rotated to others, making contacts and becoming a self-described “Swiss Army knife” during his two years as an intern with the company. Continue reading “Mechanical Engineering Student Wins University Internship Essay Contest”

MAE Student Receives Scholarship to Present Paper at AIAA Conference

David Ramirez headshot

CSULB Aerospace Engineering major David Ramirez learned about the importance of getting involved back when he was a student at Cerritos College. He served as a student senator there, then ran for vice president of the Associated Students of Cerritos College.

“While I was VP, that’s when things really changed,” said Ramirez, who worked on student success and DACA issues and succeeded in getting a funding bill passed to enable 10 noncitizen students to participate in a NASA competition. “That experience opened my eyes to the importance of getting involved—past the books.” Continue reading “MAE Student Receives Scholarship to Present Paper at AIAA Conference”

IEEE Green Energy and Smart Systems Conference Marks Its 10th Year at CSULB

CSULB President Jane Conoley and IGESC Chair Henry Yeh
CSULB President Jane Close Conoley and IGESSC Chair Henry Yeh

The IEEE Green Energy and Smart Systems Conference—an academic conference launched to advance a systems approach to integrating emerging technologies—marked its 10th year Monday at the Walter Pyramid at California State University Long Beach.

Featuring two tracks, nearly a dozen speakers, and 32 presentations, the conference two years ago was expanded to include a daylong workshop. That contrasted with one track and 10 presentations for the inaugural conference in 2010. Continue reading “IEEE Green Energy and Smart Systems Conference Marks Its 10th Year at CSULB”

Electrical Engineering Chair Wins IEEE Outstanding Engineering Educator Award

Henry Yeh and Keith MooreHenry Yeh, chair of the CSULB Electrical Engineering Department, has been named Outstanding Engineering Educator for IEEE’s Region 6, which covers the western United States.

Yeh received the award for making “outstanding contributions to the education of electrical engineers in the areas of digital signal processing, green energy, and smart systems.” He received the award from IEEE Region 6 Director Keith Moore. The CSULB IEEE student chapter last year was recognized with the Large Student Branch of the Year Award. Continue reading “Electrical Engineering Chair Wins IEEE Outstanding Engineering Educator Award”

Meet the Duo Starting the College of Engineering’s Newest Student Club

Nikki Nguyen and Samantha Hangsan are both computer science majors. Despite that, their paths didn’t cross until a professor introduced them.

By starting the College of Engineering’s newest student organization—Women in Computing (WiC)—the pair hope to build a close-knit community where people of all identities can pursue their interests to positively impact the future of technology.

WiC co-presidents Nguyen and Hangsan created the club not only to encourage women to pursue degrees in computer science and computer engineering, but to build leadership skills to succeed in their careers and inspire future women in technology. Continue reading “Meet the Duo Starting the College of Engineering’s Newest Student Club”

Federal Funding Secured to Establish CSULB’s First Optics and Laser Laboratory

laser lab

Electrical Engineering Assistant Professor Aftab Ahmed has been awarded funding to create California State University Long Beach’s first optics and laser laboratory. Established with a $449,320 Department of Defense grant, the lab will foster learning opportunities for students and multidisciplinary research for CSULB faculty.

The lab will feature three laser systems, including a tunable titanium-sapphire continuous wave laser, an ultrafast pulsed laser, and a telecom optical wavelength band laser. Together, they will deliver the ability to test in any wavelength, from 350 to 1,565 nanometers. Continue reading “Federal Funding Secured to Establish CSULB’s First Optics and Laser Laboratory”

CSULB College of Engineering Makes Efficiency Gains in Latest ASEE Rankings

The CSULB College of Engineering has made increased gains in the number of degrees awarded per faculty member and remains a leader in the number of engineering degrees awarded to Asian-American and Hispanic students.

In the most recent American Society for Engineering Education rankings, the CSULB College of Engineering ranked 1st among U.S. universities in the ratio of bachelor’s degree recipients to faculty. That was up from 2nd in the previous year.

The College of Engineering in 2017 ranked 16th for awarding Bachelor of Science engineering degrees to Asian-American students, and in the ASEE statistics for 2018, rose to 15th. Continue reading “CSULB College of Engineering Makes Efficiency Gains in Latest ASEE Rankings”

BESST Welcomes New Freshman Cohorts As Program Enters Its Seventh Year

BESST students complete exerciseIncoming engineering freshman Anaya Blade is no stranger to California State University Long Beach. She attended high school at the nearby SATO Academy of Mathematics and Science, and has been participating in Future Girls at the Beach since her freshman year of high school and in the National Society of Black Engineers since she was a junior.

In mid-August, she was among more than three dozen members of the incoming cohort of the CSULB Beach Engineering Student Success Team (BESST) to attend the Engineering Summer Academy, a five-day program that exposes them to professional engineers and strategies for achieving success at university. Continue reading “BESST Welcomes New Freshman Cohorts As Program Enters Its Seventh Year”