Dec 16, 2018 | Updated: 09:51 PM EST

University of Alabama Students Win NASA’s Space Mining Competition

May 31, 2015 05:35 PM EDT

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It seems the University of Alabama is now known for more than just their championships in athletics, as a group of engineering and computer science students are adding even more academic trophies in a national robotics competition held by NASA.

Alabama Astrobiotics won the University of Alabama a second national championship in NASA's Robotic Mining Championship last week after constructing their own autonomous robot capable of navigating the chaotic terrain of Mars. 

"The 2015 NASA RMC National Championship cements Alabama Astrobotics as the top robotic space mining program in the country," said Dr. Kenneth Ricks, UA associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and team adviser. "This consistent level of excellence is unmatched and stands testament to the hard work and dedication of our students."

The competition was hosted at Cape Canaveral and consisted of a simulated Martian terrain.  Robots taking part in the competition were then tasked with navigating obstacles and excavating soil.  According to a statement released by the University of Alabama, the robots were tasked with gathering "simulated ice buried beneath the regolith" as an added challenge.

NASA invited 47 university teams to compete in the mining contest at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  The team was judged on a written systems engineering paper, slide presentation and demonstration, project outreach promoting science, engineering and math disciplines, team spirit, mining, autonomous operating, and communication efficiency.

In addition to being named the overall winner of the competition, the team from UA also took first in multiple categories including mining, slide presentation and demonstration, autonomous operation and efficiency in communications.  For the autonomy award, the team received the Caterpillar Award for Full Autonomy.  In all, the team brought home $10,000 in prize money that will be used to help fund next year's team.

This wasn't the first victory in the competition for the University of Alabama.  In 2012, the team previously won the competition.  This year, the team focused primarily on building a lighter autonomous robot. 

"The 2015 UA robot was among the lightest, fastest and most robust designs ever entered in the competition," Ricks said. "Combining the mechanical design with the onboard intelligence, overall this robot has no rivals from all those that have competed in the six years of this competition."

The UA team received funding from the Alabama Space Grant Consortium, NASA, Dynetics, Lockheed Martin, Nucor Steel, the UA College of Engineering, the UA Student Government Association, the UA Graduate School and Shelton State.

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