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Mars Rover Project Provides Visability

Published: May 15, 2015

A team led by mechanical and aerospace engineering’s Praveen Shankar will be competing in the 5th annual RASC-AL Robo-Ops Competition held June 2-4, at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The RASC-AL Exploration Robo-Ops Competition is sponsored by NASA and organized by the National Institute of Aerospace. Undergraduate and graduate students were invited to create a multi-disciplinary team to build a planetary rover prototype and demonstrate its capabilities to perform a series of competitive tasks in field tests at the center’s Rock Yard.

The team leads are mechanical and aerospace engineering’s Andrew Blackney, electrical engineering’s Ganesh Kudlepannavar and mechanical engineering’s Jorge Vega.

Other team members from across the College of Engineering include Roman Serna, Dominic Lai, Khanh Do, Brian Ngo, Jiaqi Ni, Kevin Anglim, Sinem Ergen, Brandon Ybarra, Orion Radtke, Aracely Torres, Josh Bail, Brian Zindric, Ryan Valdez, Julius Chua, Daniel Rodriguez, Enrique Manzo, Meghana Naik, Osiel Ramirez, Michael Parra, Tdanh Truc Le, Luis Moreno, Kent Hayes, Javed Iqbal, Kisalay Kumar and Rahul Devikar.

Besides CSULB, competitors at the event include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, San Jose State, University at Buffalo, University of Maryland, University of Utah, Virgina Tech and West Virginia University.

The faculty advisor and three students will physically attend the Robo-Ops Challenge while the remaining team members will participate from the home campus. These members will be responsible for operating the rover system remotely via on-board camera transmissions.

There will be three cash prizes for the first, second and third place. CSULB’s team receives a $10,000 stipend to facilitate full participation in the competition, including the cost of rover development, hardware/software, outreach video production and public engagement activities.

“One of the best things about CSULB participating in the Mars rover project is its visibility,” said Shankar, a member of the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department since 2011. “We are one of only eight teams selected from across the country and one of just two new teams this year.”

Blackney, one of the team leads, acquired his Bachelor of Science in aerospace engineering from CSULB in 2014 and is in pursuit of his Master of Science in aerospace engineering. His team is in charge of the rover’s electrical system and look forward to their chance to test their creations where Mars rovers like the long-lived “Curiosity” and “Opportunity” first appeared.

“NASA has asked for a planetary rover that meets certain requirements such as, can it get over eight-centimeter rocks, weigh less than 45 kilograms (approximately 100 pounds) and have a dimension limit of a meter by a meter by a half meter?” he stated.

While the CSULB Mars rover picks up rocks in Texas, it will be controlled in Long Beach by Kudlepannavar whose team will program the project’s computers.

“Live video and audio feed from the rover is a competition requirement,” explained Kudlepannavar who earned his Bachelor of Science degree in electronics from India’s University of Pune and is pursuing a Master of Science degree in electrical engineering from CSULB. “We have to pick up rocks from the Rock Yard. There are special colored rocks that have special points. First of all, we have to detect the rock. It is possible to do it manually. The goal is for the rover to perform the task autonomously. No other team has done this.”

The actual nuts-and-bolts construction is the responsibility of the Peruvian-born Jorge Vega, a mechanical engineering major at CSULB.

“My responsibilities for the project are to oversee the mechanical team, assign tasks, design and improve all aspects of the mechanics for the planetary rover such as suspension, drive system, its weight and the rover’s physical capabilities,” he said. “The team also designs the robotic arm’s gripper in order for it to be capable to pick up the required rock size and weight. Lastly, I did the design and manufactured custom tires for the rovers.”

Blackney believes CSULB’s participation says is that CSULB’s College of Engineering has plenty of smart, motivated students who prefer the hands-on approach.

“A program like this is a lot different from being in a classroom,” he said. “You go from seeing a teacher draw a picture on a board to building something yourself. It shows that students here are highly motivated to go and work out in real life. That is something that Cal State Long Beach is known for—engineers who like to get their hands dirty.”

Vega hopes that success in the Mars rover project will serve as a beacon to the best.

“A lot of people don’t know the level of achievement they will find here,” he said. “Projects like these are very interesting and, once you get to work on them, very gratifying, even if every idea doesn’t always work.”

During the competition, you can follow the CSULB team live.

The Robo-Ops competition schedule and information.

More information about the CSULB Robo-Ops team.