College students compete in Mars rover challenge in southern Utah

By Michael Anderson

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, May 30 2014 4:15 p.m. MDT

Twenty-four teams from around the world compete in the University Rover Challenge, Thursday, May 29, 2014, near Hanksville, Wayne County.

Michael Anderson, Deseret News

HANKSVILLE, Wayne County — Twenty-four teams from around the world are in southern Utah participating in the Mars Society’s University Rover Challenge.

The URC is a robotics competition for college students.

“We are challenging them to develop the next generation of Mars rovers that will work alongside those astronauts in the field on Mars,” URC director Kevin Sloan said.

The Mars Desert Research Station outside of Hanksville was chosen as the site of the competition because it has similar topography to the red planet.

“I didn’t know what to expect coming into this,” said Katelyn Brinker from the Missouri University of Technology. "It’s a lot more rocky, a lot more mountainous than I thought, but it does look a lot like Mars.”

Michael Bouchard from Rolla, Missouri, said his team, like the couple dozen other teams in the competition, hope to see their ideas one day make it to Mars.

“Right now the rovers that are on Mars are operated long distance, over about a 22-minute delay,” Bouchard said. “The rovers we’re developing for this competition are directly operated by the humans (in) real time.”

Sloan said competition organizers came up with a series of challenges, “and we try to leave it open to the teams to be as creative as they can on how they solve the problems.”

The rover tasks include a sample return task, a terrain traversing task, an astronaut assistant task, an equipment servicing task and a presentation task.

On Thursday, Adrain Dolecki’s team, which has 10 members from Warsaw University of Technology, worked against the clock to complete the task of collecting a sample. Each team had 30 minutes to set up and another 30 minutes for the rover to complete the task.

“It’s a task in which we need to collect a sample and then analyze it,” Dolecki said. “We cannot communicate with our friends that are on the ground station.”

It’s tough for members of teams to set up their robots and then watch the robots' progress on a computer screen, hoping the rest of their team can control the rover.

“It’s very hard because we see everything, but our friends just have two cameras,” said Radek Lawrnowic from Warsaw University of Technology.

Dolecki watched anxiously as his team directed its rover to pick up a soil sample.

“It’s hard just to watch because they can’t see what we see," he said, "and when I see that they’ve almost got the sample, it’s like, ‘Oh, go, go, go, a little bit,’ like just right.”

While the teams are competing, they’re also working toward the same goal — helping put man on Mars.

"There's going to be a colonization of Mars,” said Aman Kulshresthe from Hindustan University in India, “so before the colonization gets done, we have to check what is the possibility of people living up there."

“We’re competing against each other, but ultimately, at the end of the day, we’re all trying to make a better world,” Bouchard said.

Ten teams from the United States are competing in the challenge, including a team from BYU. The URC competition started Thursday and ends Saturday night with an awards ceremony.

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc

Email: manderson@deseretnews.com

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