UC San Diego Mars Rover Team Sets Their Sights on Top 10 Finish
After making it to the final round of the 2017 University Rover Challenge (URC) – an international competition where college students build rovers that could one day work on Mars – University of California San Diego student robotics organization Yonder Dynamics is back at it again and hoping to crack the top 10 in 2018.
Last year was the first time that UC San Diego took part in the competition, and Yonder Dynamics was the only University of California team to make it to the final round.
“Last year, we learned a lot and managed to come in 29th place, despite designing and building our rover, which was largely 3D printed, in just nine weeks,” said Allison Kubo, an earth sciences major at UC San Diego and the project manager of the student organization. “We are coming to the 2018 URC more prepared for the challenges in store.”
In the University Rover Challenge, student teams build the next generation of Mars rovers with the goal of one day using the technology alongside astronauts on Mars. A series of real-world tasks—equipment servicing, autonomous navigation and collecting materials for testing, for example—earn teams points, with the top overall point earner being crowned champion. The competition is held in the Utah desert, a landscape that closely resembles the red planet.
As part of their goal to move up in the rankings at this year’s competition at the end of May, the team is planning to build a more durable robot capable of withstanding falls and bumpy terrain. To fund this more ruggedized equipment, the students are turning to crowdsourcing. A Kickstarter campaign launched Nov. 27 aims to fund $5,000 worth of equipment and parts for the new and improved Yonder Dynamics Mars rover.
In addition to expanding this business effort, the group has doubled in size over the past year, from 40 members to nearly 100. Many of them are engineers, but members say part of what makes the team so special is the variety of focus areas represented.
“We pride ourselves on how multidisciplinary our team is,” said Isabelle Yan, a second year student and the team’s business lead. “People expect us to all be engineers, but I’m a communication major and our director is a history major. Our team philosophy is about putting people first and letting everyone get out of the group what they need. Whatever they want to learn, we’re here to provide that.”
They’re hoping that in addition to robotics, autonomy and electrical engineering, students this year will learn a bit about fundraising and how to celebrate a top 10 finish.
Yonder Dynamics is sponsored by the UC San Diego Qualcomm Institute, Thorlabs, Protocase, Meter Environment, Cubic, Dassault Systemes, Altium, Noir LaserShields, Vere Inc., and UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering.