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Mars Exploration Robotics Contest

Seattle Robotics Society

This article describes some basic ideas for the creation of a tele-operated robotics contest to be sponsored by the Seattle Robotics Society. Contact Kevin Ross (kevinro@nwlink.com) to express your comments, or to find out more information

The Challenge:

The goal for the contest is to build a robot that can explore an environment, take samples and measurements of the environment, and report its findings back to the participants of the contest.

The ultimate goal of any exploration is to form an accurate model of the environment being explored. Accurate measurements and reporting is critical. Therefore, points are gained by providing correct information, and points are deducted for incorrect information.

The Environment:

We propose the creation of an environment similar to that of the planet Mars. Thus, contestants will not be able to directly map or view the environment before the contest. We will provide some 'guesses' as to what to expect, but will limit this information to emulate our limited knowledge about the surface of Mars.

The Mars Explorer mission has a list of desirable goals. The accomplishment of each goal will be rewarded by points. The team which gains the highest number of points wins the contest. In the event of a tie in points, an additional round may be performed by the highest scoring group.

The contest will provide a communications link in the form of a wireless 9600 baud modem. The modem will have power and mounting requirements on the robot. To better simulate a long distance tele-operated event, there will be a time delay built into the communications system. The data stream sent through the modem will encounter a 10 second delay. This simulates some of the difficulties in navigating at extreme distances. To encourage everyone to participate, we will allow for 'sub-space' communications, which has no time delay. However, this sub-space communication is going to cost points and baud rate.

Exploration will include the location of Mars 'rocks', which are simulated by round blocks of various materials. Finding and identifying a rock will gain the team points. Additional points are available for correctly identifying characteristics of the rock, such as size, weight, color, magnetic properties, and conductivity. Each characteristic must be identified within a certain tolerance. Incorrect determinations are considered a penalty, and will deduct points from the overall mission.

The terrain of Mars is very diverse. The goals of this mission are to map and sample as many areas as possible in the allocated time. Known terrain’s are a large plain, a hilly region, a mountainous region, and unknown region. A map of the actual Pathfinder landing site, denoted by the elipse, is shown on the right. Mission goals are to explore and map each of these regions. Points are awarded for visiting each region. The contest area will NOT BE FLAT! There will be some elevation changes, ruts, rocks, and other unknown elements. Robots should be capable of negotiating the environment. The terrain will be similar to sand or dirt. The plains may be like a dry lake bed. A ground clearance of 1" will be adequate for the plain areas. A ground clearance of at least 2" is highly recommended to traverse all other areas.

Click on photo for more information

Atmospheric conditions will be mostly dry (i.e. we won't be spraying any robots down with water). There may be windy regions. Points are gained for each accurate measurement of atmospheric conditions in each region (temp, wind speed and direction).

To Be Determined:

The following is a table of issues that have not been resolved, but are under consideration:

Issue   Current thoughts
Materials for construction of rock samples   Polyurethane foams, styrofoam, softballs, lava rock, pumice,
Material for surface construction   1/2" sand for plains such as washed sandbox sand. Builders sand (rougher) for hilly terrain.
Points for each element of contest   Scoring mechanism should be fair enough for a basic entry to do well. Point curve should be steep, however, for more complex entries. Details TBD.
Providing a video systems as part of the package   An idea being considered is providing a small video camera, such as a Connectix camera, to contestants who do not have their own equipment. This would allow others to have a pre-developed method for transmitting video data. Difficult issues are allocating development time with such a system, insurance against damage, etc. TBD
Date for contest   We would like to have the contest as soon as possible. One theory is we try for the end of June. The other is we wait until next year, perhaps November. TBD.

More Information:

We welcome comments or questions about this contest proposal. Send mail to kevinro@nwlink.com

For more information about the actual Mars lander program, check out:

JPL Mars Pathfinder Mission Home Page