Saturday, July 5, 2008

ESA's Lunar Robotics Challenge

As interest in exploration of the Moon soars among the world's space agencies, ESA, through it's General Studies Programme, has challenged university students to develop a robotic vehicle that is capable of working in difficult terrain, comparable to that found at the lunar poles.

Eight university teams have been selected to proceed to the design stage of ESA's Lunar Robotics Challenge.

ESA's first Lunar Robotics Challenge got under way in late March with the issuing of an Announcement of Opportunity that invited teams of university students to create an innovative, mobile robot capable of retrieving samples from a lunar-like crater.

Eight of the submitted proposals have been selected for funding after evaluation by a team of ESA experts. The selected student teams received the go-ahead to design their robotic systems, and eventually build them to compete in the challenge event.

Challenge objectives
The proposals had to describe the design of a vehicle capable of retrieving soil samples from a crater, and an associated remote-operation workstation. The vehicles are required to weigh no more than 100 kg, consume no more than 2 kW of power, and occupy a volume of no more than 0.5 cubic metres with deployable appendages stowed.

The robot's test mission includes a number of objectives:

- move from a 'landing site' to the rim of a lunar-like crater

- descend into the crater, negotiating an incline of up to 40 degrees

- operate in sunlight on the crater rim, and in the dark interior of the crater

- reach the bottom of the 15 m deep crater

- locate and retrieve at least 0.1 kg of selected, visually distinctive, soil samples from the bottom of the crater

- return to the crater rim and then the 'landing site'

- The vehicle will be remotely operated by a workstation placed outside the crater and with no direct visibility of the crater or rim.

Selected teams

The teams selected to proceed with the design phase, supported by funding from the ESA General Studies Programme (GSP), are:

  • Universit√§t Bremen, Germany,

    University Bremen, Germany,

    Universidad Politecnica de Madrid, Spain,

    Oulun Yliopisto (University of Oulu), Finland

    Università di Pisa, Italy,

    Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna Pisa, Italy,

    Surrey Space Centre, University of Surrey, United

    Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule - ETH) Zurich, Switzerland

Each team is required to maintain a web blog during the challenge.

Reviews and competition
Following the selection, a kick-off meeting for the successful entrants was held by videoconference. The student teams were then given a few months to develop their design ready for a Critical Design Review (CDR) to be held at ESA's European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC), in the Netherlands, on 9 and 10 July.

If they are successful at the CDR, the teams will be given approval and further funding to build their entry.

A Test Readiness Review will be held at the premises of each university team once construction of their robot is complete. The challenge will culminate in a 10-day competition, to be held in October 2008.

Listening to: Metalica - Nothing Else Matters
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Friday, June 27, 2008

QinetiQ's North American division Ships First MAARS Robot

QinetiQ has announced that QinetiQ North America's Technology Solutions Group has shipped the first MAARS ground robot to the US military under a contract from the Explosive Ordnance Disposal/Low-Intensity Conflict (EOD/LIC) Program within the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (CTTSO).

MAARS (Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System) is the first fully modular ground robot system capable of providing a measured response including non-lethal, less-lethal and even lethal stand-off capabilities.

The MAARS system is an agile, combat-ready robot that is remotely controlled by the operator. The robot contains advanced processing capabilities and features a uni-body chassis with a plug-and-play design, which allows for ready use of new and evolving accessories and attachments.

MAARS also comes with an easy-to-learn digital control system that provides comprehensive situational awareness that works up to a range of over one kilometre from the operator, effectively extending the reach of the operator and enhancing his survivability.

MAARS was developed with safety as the number one goal. Based on feedback gleaned from numerous tests and demonstrations at military facilities across the US, along with experience gained from the US Army safety-certified features of SWORDS, MAARS gives the warfighter the ability to provide a measured response no matter the situation.

Additionally, MAARS will continue to be tested exhaustively under various conditions in the coming months to ensure full compliance with standards and a safety release for fielding.

"The US government has been working with us over the last 18 months to develop and provide an innovative and evolutionary approach to combat situations that address the battlefield of the future," said Dr William Ribich, President of the Technology Solutions Group, QinetiQ North America.

"The MAARS robot, building on valuable experience gained with our SWORDS robot system in Iraq, is now ready to provide the needed core platform to develop tactics, techniques and procedures for using armed, yet human-controlled, robotic ground systems."

One of the most innovative capabilities of MAARS is the ability to apply non-lethal force by projecting the operator's voice through mounted loudspeakers, or alternatively to pulse a green, eye-safe laser to dazzle people. In addition, MAARS' two-way communication features allow the operator to interact from a safe distance.

MAARS also has the capability to launch 40mm less-lethal ammunition, such as bean bags, smoke, star clusters and pepper spray, and lethal ammunition. If lethal action is required, an operator can launch 40mm high-explosive grenades or engage with the powerful M240B medium machine gun firing 7.62mm ammunition.

"We jointly developed the MAARS robot with the military in order to enhance the warfighter's capability and lethality, extend his situational awareness and provide all these capabilities across the spectrum of combat," added Dr Ribich.

"With today's enemies engaging in asymmetric warfare, no encounter is ever completely safe. MAARS' modularity and groundbreaking levels of force escalation will help to save both troops lives as well as non-combatants in the area."

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