One small step for man - one giant leap for robotics!

Customer Voices
This challenge is a great collaboration between the scientific community and engineers
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” - who can forget those immortal words spoken by Neil Armstrong as he became the first man to step on the Moon fifty years ago?, and although it’s been half a century since that historic event, the interest and fever around all things ‘Space’ has not diminished!

Everybody’s heard of NASA, (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), set up as part of the US government in 1958 to lead the way in space research and development, but there are also many organisations and initiatives globally that are looking to advance space knowledge and technology.

The University Rover Challenge

One such initiative is the University Rover Challenge, a project of the Mars Society, which is held annually as a 3-day event in the desert of South Utah, U.S. - terrain not dissimilar to Mars itself.

Each year students are challenged to design and build the next generation of mars rover, a robotically operated vehicle capable of travelling over and investigating the surface of the red planet.

84 teams from over 13 countries firstly submit design and system acceptance reviews to be whittled down to the final 36 teams, who are then invited to compete in the desert.

The rover has to be able to perform a variety of missions and tasks, such as analysing rock and soil samples, as well as collecting and transporting various objects - similar to tasks that NASA's real Mars rover would need to perform in real-life scenarios.  Each task is performed under the watchful eyes of a volunteer team of judges with a diversity of experience from system engineers, biologists, roboticists and scientists.

Of the UK entrants for 2019, The University of Southampton was the only UK team which qualified to participate in this year's challenge, following on from 2018 when they were the very first UK team to qualify to take part. This year the team consisted of six 4th year mechanical engineering students, each allocated to work on the different aspects of the rover namely, hardware, science, software, electronics, management and logistics. Their aim was to achieve a higher position in the overall ranking than last year's team, who came 28th.

RS was proud to sponsor the team with various components such as the Raspberry Pi Camera mode, encoder, time delay MEGA fuse  , adhesive and ball bearings, to name a few!

engineer of tomorrowThe team includes (from L-R) Alberton Natale (Team Leader), Cristina Blazquez Diaz (Science lead), Andres Vina Bordel (hardware Lead), Miguel Fuentes Montiu (On-Board Hardware lead), Andy Everitt (Software Lead), Jannic Holzer (Electronics Lead).

Introducing Pegasus 3.0

So, what did the team do differently for the 2019 rover, named Pegasus 3.0? Well, this year they reduced its overall weight by 40%, with an optimised suspension system made of carbon fibre tubes, making it much more agile when manoeuvring over rough terrains. The team also built a reflectance spectrometer for studying soil and rock samples through the analysis of their light properties, along with a modified robotic arm fitted with new end effectors to aid manipulation of small items.

The required tasks that they needed to complete at the event were:
  • Science Mission - investigate multiple sites of biological interest, taking and testing samples onboard the rover to determine presence or absence of life.
  • Extreme Retrieval and Delivery Mission - given approximate GPS coordinates the rovers need to demonstrate their capabilities at picking up various objects, such as hammers, toolboxes and rocks, delivering them to the correct locations.
  • Equipment Servicing Mission - Rovers need to demonstrate their dexterity by performing a variety of operations on a mock-up equipment system, which could range from operating a joystick or switch, to replacing an electronics board or securing a drawer.
  • Autonomous Travel Mission - without operators from the base station giving instructions the rover has to autonomously travel between markers, avoiding obstacles, using GPS coordinates.
Prior to the competition, the team were able to do some testing with the help of Airbus at their Mars Yard testing facility, where the ExoMars Rover, developed by the European Space Agency is tested.

The results are in...

So how did Pegasus 3.0 get on? Did it meet the challenges?
Watch the video to follow the team's journey, challenges and ultimately find out the results - one giant leap?


We have learnt so much as engineers through this challenge and it has given us the opportunity to work first hand on a really exciting project


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