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SIU students win NASA contest to design mining robots for the moon

Mayson Pine, a mechanical engineering student at Southern Illinois University Carbondale from...
Mayson Pine, a mechanical engineering student at Southern Illinois University Carbondale from Makanda, works on a drill press while building a prototype mining robot for NASA’s annual LUNABOTS competition.(Southern Illinois University Carbondale)
Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 11:06 PM CDT
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CARBONDALE, Ill. (KFVS) - A Southern Illinois University Carbondale team received first place in NASA’s annual robotics mining competition.

The contest, LUNABOTS, featured dozens of teams from around the country. It started last fall and recently ended with an awards ceremony.

A computer-aided drawing of prototype mining robot built by a team of student engineers at...
A computer-aided drawing of prototype mining robot built by a team of student engineers at Southern Illinois University Carbondale won the virtual competition at NASA’s annual LUNABOTS competition.(Southern Illinois University Carbondale)

Clark Lindsay, a senor in mechanical engineering and computer science and team leader from Creal Springs, said students receive practical experience in the full engineering lifecycle process.

A panel of judges from NASA scored the entries.

Lindsay said the competition required the teams to design and create a 3D computer-aided drawing of their own mining robot. They also had to write a research paper on the steps and reasoning they used to arrive at their design, as well as how they plan to improve the design next year.

“We were asked to present a design for a robot that can function on the moon, driving, avoiding obstacles and mining through a layer of dust, and then extracting gravel buried beneath the dust,” Lindsay said. “This is to simulate navigating and extracting ice from beneath the surface of the moon.”

Team members included majors in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer engineering and computer science programs.

Illinois

  • Clark Lindsay, Creal Springs, mechanical engineering and computer science
  • Mayson Pine, Makanda, mechanical engineering
  • Gretchen Volling, Joliet, computer engineering
  • David Kotarba, Elmwood Park, mechanical engineering
  • Jed Vergara, Beecher, electrical and computer engineering
  • Makenna Yergler, Metamora, electrical engineering
  • Jack Jarman, Benld, electrical engineering
  • Zachary Hughey, Carbondale, mechanical engineering

Wisconsin

  • Benjamin Trewin, Platteville, electrical and computer engineering

While this competition was virtual, the team members still built a physical prototype.

“It was built as a way for us to make sure that our virtual design was physically viable,” Lindsay said. “It allowed our team to maintain a working knowledge of the machinery we will need to use in making a full robot in the fall, and hopefully part of the prototype will be usable as a basis for the full robot when we start working on it,”

He said the team hoped to participate in the other robotic mining competition in the upcoming 2021-2022 cycle.

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