York team brings home first place in University Rover Challenge

The new and improved 2012 rover

The York University Rover Team (YURT) will head to Muskoka this summer where the Centre for Surgical Invention & Innovation will host the National Robotics Competition. It will mark the third major contest this year for YURT, which already won first place at the University Rover Challenge earlier this month in Utah.

The Robotics Competition is part of the Innovation Nation Conference, which sets a platform for high school and university students across Canada to exhibit their engineering prowess. That same prowess was on display at this year’s University Rover Challenge at the Mars Desert Research Station, where York’s rover outperformed major American universities, such as Brigham Young University in Utah, which placed second, and Cornell University in New York, which took third.

The route the YURT took for the last two competitionsYURT also faced tough competition from the University of Michigan and Wroclaw University in Poland. And, according to a press release from the Mars Society, YURT was able to pull off an “outright victory” in the Astronaut Assistance Task.

The route the YURT took for the last two competitions

Mechanical systems team lead Isaac De Souza attributes this win to the rover’s “simplified and robust system” that allowed them to feed off team members’ abilities to troubleshoot on the fly – a skill other universities could have used among the dust storms and intense heat of the Utah desert. After placing second for the past two years, YURT members were relieved to have brought home the first place trophy for the second time – they also won first in 2009.

Along with the bragging rights for the year, YURT won a cash prize from the Mars Society. The team will also have the honour of presenting its prototype at the International Mars Society Convention Aug. 3 to 5 in Pasadena, California.

The University Rover Challenge requires each team to make a new rover prototype with the capacity for space exploration alongside humans. The new and improved 2012 roverDuring the school year, the team dedicates countless time outside of the classroom, researching, building, promoting and programming a rover from scratch.

The new and improved 2012 rover

The first competition of the year for the team, NASA’s Lunabotics Competition, was held at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and presented new challenges for YURT. De Souza spoke highly about the experience, saying the other teams were intensely competitive, but also equally helpful. “Being at NASA brings out the best in people,” says DeSouza.

He quotes the head judge of the competition, who said that, “we are all part of the same team, looking to solve the same problems.” Along with the insight they took with them from competitors and judges alike, YURT members gained knowledge of the “NASA way” of systems engineering – knowledge they likely took with them to their second stop.

The YURT’s next stop is a little closer to home – Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville, July 9 and 10. It will give the team a platform to demonstrate the innovative ways in which they have chosen to solve the challenges faced in the previous two competitions.

YURT’s most recent victory with at the URC this year proves that with persistence and optimism, “the way must be tried”.

Submitted to YFile by Jacquelin Chatterpaul, a work study science writing assistant in the Faculty of Science & Engineering.