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UMass Robotics Team Joins NASA Competition

This year, the UMass Robotics Team team will be competing in the NASA Lunabotics competition by building an “off-world mining robot” capable of digging through sand and gathering precious soil material similar to what a robot might do on the Moon or Mars.

UMass Robotics is a new student-run organization that gives participants the opportunity, as the team members say, “to dive deep into the cutting-edge field of robotics.” In the process, team members gain experience in computer programming, electronics, and hardware design.

Lunabotics is a college-level event, which supports NASA’s Artemis Moon to Mars mission, requiring teams to participate in multiple events throughout the year and (if conditions allow) on-site at the final competition. The goal of this Artemis challenge is to gather and evaluate excavator design and surface motion operational robotic data for future Lunar excavators.

 “Our team is highly committed,” as UMass Robotics explains on its website, “and every member is guaranteed to learn valuable skills that can be applied in a workplace environment. UMass Robotics is an amazing place for students of all experience levels, and we hope to see you on the team!”

UMass Robotics currently has 13 team members, including the president, computer science and computer engineering major Sam Dubois, the vice-president, mechanical engineering major Sean Flanagan, the treasurer, mechanical engineering major Dom Locurto, and the secretary, mechanical engineering major Alex Klinkhamer.

The rest of the team includes: mechanical engineering majors Aidan Downey, Kyle O’Connell, and Dillan Wilson; computer engineering majors Mike Brauninger, Andrew Tran, and Andy Gutierrez; cyber forensics research fellow Jagath Jai Kumar; computer science M.S. student Adam Rivelli; and journalism and biology major Emma Thompson, who is the social media correspondent.

According to Dubois, “For the past five or six months, I have been working with [all these team members] to create a well-structured, organized, and exciting opportunity for UMass students to learn about robotics, compete in competitions, and gain real team experience under a deadline.”

NASA expects to evaluate more than 40 proof-of-concept robots for the Lunabotics competition, the final of which is scheduled to take place in May of 2021, the climax of a year-long endeavor.

As Dubois says, “The team has been working extremely hard this summer to develop a working prototype for the competition involving large amounts of research and virtual development.”

NASA says that “The annual RMC: Lunabotics competition is a full-on engineering exercise where students receive practical experience in the full engineering lifecycle process from concept development to system closeout.”

Each team participating in the competition must design a robot capable of traversing an obstacle-filled, abrasive environment similar to the surface of the Moon or Mars and digging up to a depth of 45 centimeters for gravel. The robot must collect this gravel and deposit it in a drop zone.

Dubois remarks “In the future we hope to expand the UMass Robotics Team to support even more competitions such as Battlebots, DARPA, and several others. We hope that NASA’s Lunabotics Competition serves as a stepping stone towards creating the largest multidisciplinary organization at UMass Amherst for engineers and computer scientists alike.” (September 2020)

UMass Robotics: www.umassrobotics.org

Lunabotics: https://www.nasa.gov/offices/education/centers/kennedy/technology/nasarmc.html