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The University of Alabama

UA Engineering Students Build Robot for Space-Mining Contest

Alabama Lunabot team, lunabots, astrobots, astrobot

Team members, from left, Caleb Leslie, Jake Webster and Michael Carswell test the astrobot in a sand pit located in space devoted to student projects in Hardaway Hall. Dr. Kenneth Ricks, far right, is the team adviser.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Students in the Alabama Astrobotics team from The University of Alabama and Shelton State Community College will participate in the NASA Robotics Mining Competition May 19-23 at Kennedy Space Center.

As part of the competition, students are required to design a robot capable of navigating through and excavating 10 kilograms of simulated Martian regolith, or a layer of loose material that covers a solid rock. The robot is allowed two windows of 10 minutes to move across the arena, through an obstacle course, and excavate as much regolith as possible.

This year, the team is focused primarily on building a completely autonomous robot. To accomplish this, the robot is equipped with cameras, laser scanners and sensors that allow it to automatically determine its location within the competition arena and to drive around obstacles.

The team will be judged on an oral presentation; a written systems engineering paper; project outreach in promoting science, technology, engineering and math disciplines; team spirit; and the mining category. Within the mining category, the robot is judged on its overall weight, the amount of regolith collected and the bandwidth required in communicating with the robot.

This is the fifth annual robotic mining competition NASA has hosted. Made up of students from across engineering disciplines, computer science and other areas of campus, the team of UA students won the contest in 2012, and placed third a year ago.

The astrobot is designed to mine simulated Martian soil.

The astrobot is designed to mine simulated Martian soil.

The technology concepts developed by the university teams for this competition conceivably could be used to mine resources on asteroids as well as Mars, according to NASA. The agency will directly benefit from the competition by encouraging the development of innovative excavation concepts from universities which may result in clever ideas and solutions which could be applied to an actual excavation device or payload.

As part of a required educational outreach component, members of Alabama Astrobotics have worked with students at University Place Elementary School and the Tuscaloosa Magnet School in the Tuscaloosa City School System to introduce science and technology concepts through hands-on activities.

Dr. Kenneth Ricks, UA associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Renea Randle, mathematics instructor at Shelton State Community College, serve as advisers for the team.

Members of the team include:

  • Taylor Boyle, a sophomore in computer engineering from Hoover
  • Matthew Bries, a sophomore in computer engineering from St. Charles, Missouri
  • Michael Carswell, a graduate student in electrical engineering from Geneva
  • Brent Chester, a sophomore in electrical engineering from Scottsdale, Arizona
  • Caroline Driggers, a sophomore in early childhood special education from Birmingham
  • Andrew Faulkner, a graduate student in computer engineering from Tuscaloosa
  • John Grace, a graduate student in electrical engineering from Huntsville
  • Samuel Griffin, a sophomore in computer engineering from Vestavia Hills
  • William Hampton, a sophomore in electrical engineering from Aledo, Texas
  • Samuel Hart, a freshman in pre-engineering at Shelton State from Gallion
  • Luke Haynes, a junior in electrical engineering from Kennesaw, Georgia
  • Justin Headley, a graduate student in computer engineering from Oxford
  • Austin Holliman, a sophomore in civil engineering at Shelton State from Gordo
  • Derrill Koelz, a post-graduate student in computer engineering from Hoover
  • Richard Lawson, a junior in electrical engineering from Purvis, Mississippi
  • Caleb Leslie, a graduate student in computer engineering and mathematics from Enterprise
  • Chad Logsdon, a junior in electrical engineering from Orlando, Florida
  • Alan Mullenix, a sophomore in pure mathematics from Northport
  • Kyle Nelson, a freshman in electrical engineering from Hartselle
  • Evan Phillips, a junior in electrical engineering from Shelby Township, Michigan
  • David Sandel, a graduate student in computer engineering from Dothan
  • Kellen Schroeter, a senior in aerospace engineering from West Bloomfield, Michigan
  • Rebecca Sedlak, a freshman in aerospace engineering from Montgomery
  • Mitchell Spryn, a senior in electrical engineering and physics from Williamsburg, Virginia
  • Alex Stapp, a senior in mechanical engineering from Tuscaloosa
  • Jake Webster, a sophomore in mechanical engineering from Fultondale
  • Andrew Zeller, a junior in mechanical engineering from Greenbay, Wis.

The team received funding from the Alabama Space Grant Consortium, NASA, Dynetics, Insuresoft, Fitz-Thors Engineering, the UA College of Engineering, the UA Student Government Association, the UA Graduate School, Shelton State and Zoe’s Kitchen.

In 1837, The University of Alabama became one of the first five universities in the nation to offer engineering classes. Today, UA’s fully accredited College of Engineering has more than 3,900 students and more than 110 faculty. In the last eight years, students in the College have been named USA Today All-USA College Academic Team members, Goldwater, Hollings, Portz, Mitchell and Truman scholars.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.