The Challenge

MRover's primary goal is to win the University Rover Challenge (URC). Student teams from all over the world compete in the URC to design and build the best rover for assisting future astronauts. The URC is hosted by The Mars Society, the largest advocacy group for the exploration and settlement of Mars, and it takes place at the Mars Research Station in the Utah Desert. The competition consists of four events:

  • Extreme Retrieval and Delivery - Traveling over tough terrain
  • Equipment Servicing - Manipulating various pieces of equipment with the robotic arm
  • Science Cache - Acquiring soil from a chosen site and evaluating it for signs of life
  • Autonomous Navigation - Driving to GPS coordinates and searching for markers nearby.
The teams must be able to maneuver their rovers through the unpredictable, rocky terrain using only the cameras on their rovers, simulating the experience of driving a rover on Mars. In light of recent interest in autonomy, the URC implemented an autonomous navigation task in 2017, adding an additional software challenge to the competition.

Mechanical Team

Robotic Arm

The Robotic Arm subteam designs and builds a multiple degree-of-freedom robotic arm responsible for completing tasks in the "Equipment Servicing" and "Extreme Retrieval and Delivery" portions of the competition. The arm is able to lift objects, open drawers, push buttons, type on a keyboard, and accomplish other precise movements.

Sample Acquisition

The Sample Acquisition subteam is responsible for collecting and transporting soil to our onboard instruments. They design and build drills and other devices to extract and intake the samples In addition, they analyze rocks in-situ using a microscope and other probes. (Not accepting new members in Winter 2020)

Chassis and Mounts

The Chassis and Mounts subteam develops a lightweight and strong carbon fiber chassis that is optimized for all our sub-systems. They also develop our gimbal camera for operation and are responsible for creating the physical electrical box and providing wire management for a professional-looking rover. (Not accepting new members in Winter 2020)

Mobility

The Mobility subteam builds the drive and suspension systems that protect sensitive onboard equipment while the rover navigates through rocks and rough terrain. Their latest designs experiment with differential systems, compliant wheels with custom tread, flexible 3D printing, and 4-bar linkage shock suspensions. (Not accepting new members in Winter 2020)

Science Team

Science

The Science subteam is responsible for developing tests to analyze collected samples for signs of life and selecting equipment to monitor for evidence of life around the rover. They research different indicators of life, identify a possible test for that indicator, and then design a way for the test to happen on board the rover in partnership with Instrumentation and Sample Handling as well as Sample Acquisition.

Instrumentation and Sample Handling

The Instrumentation and Sample Handling subteam is responsible for developing in situ life detection hardware for the rover. They work closely with Sample Acquisition to analyze soil samples, as well as with Science to implement their strategy for finding extinct or extant life using technology designed for and mounted on our rover.

Software Team

Autonomous Navigation

The Autonomous Navigation subteam develops high-level, abstracted code that allows the rover to traverse desert terrain and reach desired waypoints, avoid obstacles, and search for field markers. They also work closely with the Computer Vision team and employ GPS, magnetometers, IMUs, and other sensors to achieve the goals of navigation and localization.

Computer Vision

The Computer Vision subteam develops high level code to analyze information gathered from onboard cameras, and to process that information to guide the rover's navigation. This subteam works closely with Autonomous Navigation, providing them with useful information to improve the rover's autonomous operation.

Teleoperation

The Teleoperation subteam works with communications between base station and the rover. They maintain the GUI used by human drivers to control the rover and develop control solutions for complex systems (such as our robotic arm) to improve accuracy and usability.

Hardware Interface

The Hardware Interface subteam writes low-level driver code that allows the other programming subteams to utilize the electronic equipment on the rover. They work primarily with libraries in C and python, provided by manufacturers, to abstract the functions needed by the other teams for easy use.

Electrical Team

Power

The Power subteam is in charge of providing power to the rover and managing the electronics box. They develop custom solutions to distribute power to key systems around the rover and partner with all mechanical subteams to design the best power delivery system for their needs. This year they look forward to building a custom battery.

Commands and Data Handling

The Commands and Data Handling subteam works on controlling actuators, receiving signals from sensors, and managing data connections from the electronics box to external components. They design custom printed circuit boards for sensor interfacing and motor control.

Communications

The Communications subteam is responsible for ensuring a strong, wireless RF communication link between the base station and the rover. This includes testing various radio and antenna equipment in a competition-like environment to select the best RF system for the rover.