Nova Rover Team is now the first Australian Team to compete at the University Rover Challenge (URC). As a first year team, we were delighted that our work and sacrifice placed us 14th out of the 96 teams who applied. We ended up beating Ivy league universities and teams with much more experience and resources than ourselves.
It was incredibly exciting to actually arrive at the Mars Desert Research Station and have our rover drive. A Mars rover is a rather complex robotic system, which can make it quite volatile in terms of issues and debugging. Fixing a problem usually isn’t too hard, but finding the problem is a real challenge when the device has so many layers of hardware, electronics and software to peel back. We’ve learnt that the key to building robust systems is to prototype, test, assess, redesign, rinse and repeat, and that it is important to not only design for functionality but to make smart designs for convenient debugging and testing. It was this philosophy and the willingness of team members to stay up late fixing problems that allowed our rover to perform on the days. Despite several technical issues that limited our performance in the tasks, the mere fact that our rover was able to attempt all of the four tasks is a testament to the dedication and skill of the team.
Our time at the competition has given us dozens of new ideas for improving our systems and next year, in 2019, we are planning to win the competition!