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Faculty of Science

Red Rover, Red Rover, we call R3 over!

Ryerson Rams Robotics team places second in the world at prestigious Mars Society University Rover Challenge in Utah.

By the time the Ryerson Rams Robotics (R3) team arrived at the Mars Society University Rover Challenge (URC) this past May, every detail of their submission had been perfected. The competition location in southern Utah has no cell service, and there are no opportunities to tweak, tinker or fine-tune.

“It’s a competition unlike any other I have been involved in,” says Michel Kiflen, Biomedical Sciences ’18 and leader of the R3 science sub-team. “All testing and contingency planning has to happen in advance. It’s an intense environment. Once you arrive at the Mars Desert Research Station, you have to be on high alert and react quickly to the challenges facing you.”

This year’s challenge initially involved 83 teams from 13 countries before a final 34 teams from 10 countries were invited to the second-stage field competition in Utah. The task is clear but complex: build the next generation of Mars rovers that will one day work alongside human explorers of the Red Planet.

Kiflen worked with about 40 other members of the R3 team to prepare its submission. Students from the Faculty of Science, Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science, and the Ted Rogers School of Business Management worked within one of three rover sub-teams: controls, mechanical and science.

Cross-disciplinary student expertise is required in order to compete in four difficult and unique events: Science Mission, Extreme Retrieval and Delivery Mission, Equipment Servicing Mission, and Autonomous Traversal Mission. The Science Mission, for example, included analyzing several soil and rock samples and providing the crucial data needed for the R3 team to brief a judging panel of astrobiologists from NASA Ames Research Center.

With a 21st place finish in 2017 and 15th place in 2018, the R3 team focused on implementing needed changes identified in previous years in order to have a breakout performance in 2019.

“Important mistakes helped us to get better,” says Kiflen. “For example, past problems with the communication system between the rover and the operators needed to be resolved. We had a list of areas to improve on and planned for any potential issues. Another lesson from previous years was that you can’t be successful unless you use all the time available between competition tasks.”

The entire R3 team is grateful to its many sponsors, such as the Ryerson Engineering Student Society (RESS), Ryerson Science Society (RSS), SolidWorks for its 3D CAD design and analysis software, NeuronicsWorks for their printed circuit boards, and NVIDIA for supplying Jetson TX2 modules, which are the fastest, most power-efficient embedded artificial intelligence computing devices available. It takes not only dedication and ingenuity but a lot of support to achieve greatness on the international stage.

“From start to finish, this was truly a collaborative effort,” says Kiflen. “Great teamwork and partnerships helped make our rover better than in previous years. We were absolutely ecstatic when our second-place finish was announced – and extremely proud to have Ryerson represented so well at a premier competition.”