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York University's rover team finishes second in Mars challenge

York University's rover team finishes second in Mars challenge

The York University Rover Team – just call them YURTs – maintained their record of excellence at the international University Rover Challenge (URC) on the weekend, finishing in second place to a team from Poland in the hot deserts of Utah. (CBC also covered the team's success).

Above: Members of the York University Rover Team pose for a group photo in the cool of the evening at the Mars Research Station, Hanksville, Utah

York first entered the challenge, sponsored by TASC (The Analytic Sciences Corporation) Inc., four years ago and has finished in the top three every year, including a first-place finish in 2009. The challenge: "Design and build the next generation of Mars rovers that will one day work alongside human explorers in the field."

Above: EVE travels the hostile clime of the Utah desert

The closest race came between the second and third place teams, York University and Oregon State University, who were separated by only 16 points.  All together, the top three teams of 2011 were the same top three from 2010, but with different results.

“The level of sophistication shown by these teams was overwhelming,” remarked URC director Kevin Sloan.  “These teams poured themselves into their rover projects over the past year, and it clearly showed.  The level of competition was taken to an entirely new level this year.”

Above: EVE (Enhanced Vehicle Explorer)

The York team left Toronto with its EVE (Enhanced Vehicle Explorer) on May 27 and drove for three days to Hanksville, Utah, arriving early to ensure they could put in some field test time in the environment.

“The past few days have been intense with emotional highs and lows,” said team member Shailja Sahani. “Every team member has been putting in at least 20-hour days to make the competition a success, with some sleeping only five hours in the last three days.

“Everyone came together as a team with no prodding from the leadership; they simply picked up tools and got to work. Although we were well prepared before the competition, the desert environment and harsh operating conditions required many last-minute repairs and alterations.

"Our success came from our ability to fix the rover in situ and get back to the task, while other teams were left stranded,” said team member Jordan Bailey.

Bailey, one of two students responsible for the team's finances and marketing, told CBC News he thinks the current rover is the team's "best one yet." Last year, the team faced multiple equipment failures as a result of the record temperatures, which soared to 38 C in the shade. This year's model has a more robust suspension, a finer control system and better temperature regulation than its predecessor, Bailey said.

Above: Jordan Bailey & Isaac DeSouza work into the night to get EVE ready

The rover cost about $13,000 to build, slightly below the $15,000 maximum allowed. The YURT is sponsored by York University, Ontario Centres of Excellence and MDA. The faculty advisers from York’s Department of Earth & Space Science & Engineering, Faculty of Science & Engineering were Professor Michael Daly and Professor Regina Lee. The engineering adviser was graduate student Mark Post.

The participants included three teams from Poland, three from the United States and two from Canada. By the end of the competition, one team from each country had placed in the top three.  The Magma2 team from the Bialystok University of Technology in Poland pulled away from the other two teams to an impressive victory.

Magma2 was the first European team to win URC.  They also were the first team to ever deploy an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) as part of the competition.

For more information, visit the University Rover Challenge website.

Republished courtesy of YFile– York University’s daily e-bulletin.