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.

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”

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’s Chem-E Car Team Takes First Place in the AIChE Regional Competition

On its first run, the Tank refused to operate. But on its second run, after some tinkering and troubleshooting, California State University Long Beach’s entry in the Chem-E Car competition sped off, stopping within 2.24 meters of its 17.2-meter goal and landing CSULB a first-place win.

“We knew we were close,” said team co-captain Anthony Reyes, adding that the team erupted in shrieks of enthusiasm when it was announced they beat out competitors at the AIChE Western Regional Conference at the University of Southern California earlier this month. Continue reading “CSULB’s Chem-E Car Team Takes First Place in the AIChE Regional Competition”

College of Engineering 2019 Outstanding Graduate Got Start in BESST and BUILD

Jairo ContrerasMechanical engineering senior Jairo Maldonado-Contreras has been named the CSULB College of Engineering’s 2019 Outstanding Graduate. A member of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, he has held internships at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Northwestern University.

After graduation from CSULB, he will pursue a PhD in robotics at GeorgiaTech, studying human-intent recognition algorithms used to control prostheses and exoskeletons under advisor Dr. Aaron Young.

Continue reading “College of Engineering 2019 Outstanding Graduate Got Start in BESST and BUILD”

ExploreCSR Introduces Female Students to the World of Computer Science Research

In most university computer science classes, women are a minority. But at last weekend’s exploreCSR workshop at California State University Long Beach, the opposite was true.

The three-day workshop, supported by a $35,000 grant from Google, drew about 50 students from universities throughout Southern California, including Fullerton, Long Beach, Pomona, and San Diego in the California State University system, and Irvine and San Diego in the University of California system. All but three were women. Continue reading “ExploreCSR Introduces Female Students to the World of Computer Science Research”

SBIR/STTR Workshop Forges Connections between Businesses and Academia

Small Business Innovation Research attendees

Small businesses, faculty members, and researchers turned out Thursday at the College of Engineering’s SBIR/STTR Workshop to learn more about securing federal funding to build businesses.

The event, sponsored by Rep. Alan Lowenthal, the city of Long Beach, and the Southern California Biomedical Council, drew about 100 people to the Pointe Conference Center at the Walter Pyramid.

College of Engineering Dean Forouzan Golashani pointed out that the more than 28 million small businesses in the United States form the backbone of the economy.  “Looking at the increase in federal government funding compelled us to see how we can bring people together to compete for these opportunities,” he said. Continue reading “SBIR/STTR Workshop Forges Connections between Businesses and Academia”

Associate Dean Dr. Rahai Named Senior Member of National Academy of Inventors

Hamid Rahai, Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Programs in the CSULB College of Engineering, has been named a Senior Member of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI). He is among 66 inventors named to the inaugural class of Senior Members, representing 37 NAI Member Institutions collectively holding more than 1,100 issued U.S. patents.

Dr. Rahai is founding director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Research and Services (CEERS), and a professor in CSULB’s Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Biomedical Engineering departments. Continue reading “Associate Dean Dr. Rahai Named Senior Member of National Academy of Inventors”

BESST Graduate Prepares for Doctorate

Jairo Maldonado-Contreras

Attending high school on California’s Central Coast, Jairo Maldonado-Contreras got good grades, but didn’t plan to attend college. He sent out a few applications because his friends did, and was surprised when he was accepted at Long Beach State University.

Contreras chose to study engineering because he liked math. He also hoped to provide a better life for his mother, Rosa, who supports the family by picking strawberries. “When I got my acceptance, she was happy for me but also brokenhearted that I was moving three hours away,” he said. “We were always accustomed to looking after each other.”

Luckily for Contreras, he arrived at Long Beach State as the College of Engineering was establishing the Beach Engineering Student Success Team (BESST), a support program for incoming freshmen, particularly those from diverse backgrounds and with greatest need. Students attend a summer camp before the semester starts, go to classes and social activities as a group, and receive individual and group tutoring and mentoring. Continue reading “BESST Graduate Prepares for Doctorate”

Multi-disciplinary SoCalGas Teams Conduct Real-world Research

Southern California Gas Co. teams

Some engineers work for years before one of their designs makes it out into the world. But thanks to a collaborative program between the CSULB College of Engineering and Southern California Gas Co., some students have that opportunity as an undergraduate.

Each year, SoCalGas assigns technical problems to teams of mechanical engineering and chemical engineering students who work to resolve them as part of their Senior Design Projects. The problems are challenging and thought-provoking. Rather than draw on results from other researchers, the students must come up with solutions of their own. Continue reading “Multi-disciplinary SoCalGas Teams Conduct Real-world Research”