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UCM Technology Students Compete in NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge

By Mike Greife, May 9, 2016

WARRENSBURG, MO – Students from the University of Central Missouri School of Technology recently returned to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., to compete in the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge.

The team of students made the return trip to Huntsville this spring to apply what was learned when a team from UCM competed at the same event in April 2015. The 2016 team, made up of a few returning students and several who were new to the project his year, redesigned their version of the Human Exploration Rover, competing this year with two versions of their new design. They were accompanied to the competition by team advisors Shelby Scott, instructor of innovative technologies and engineering technology, and Troy Ollison, program coordinator for the Engineering technology program.

The UCM team competed with 40 additional teams in the college and university division of the competition, which draws teams from high schools, colleges and universities from around the world. UCM’s teams placed 10th and 14th this year, an improvement over the 15th place finish last year. Awards were presented to teams posting the fastest vehicle assembly and race times in their divisions with the fewest on-course time penalties.

Students enrolled in Manufacturing Problem Solving, a course taught by Scott, and additional students interested in the project, formed the first team in the fall of 2014. With the list of construction requirements in hand, they began applying their skills in problem solving and knowledge of varied areas of technology to come up with the initial design, followed by the actual construction of the rover.

The rules for construction and operation of the rover and participating in the competition require each team to design and build a vehicle that is human-powered and steerable. Wheels were to be large enough to navigate over obstacles such as large rocks and sandy terrain, but pneumatic tires were not allowed. Fenders were required to control dust, and the vehicle must fit into a 5x5x5-foot box when disassembled. In addition, the two drivers providing pedal power in the vehicle must be able to lift it, carry it a minimum of 20 feet and assemble it. Additional specifications addressed turning radius and safety equipment for passengers. Each vehicle was required to complete a designated, specially designed course of timed travel that included varying grades and obstacles.

While this year’s design was an improvement over last year’s, the students returned from this year’s competition with a new list of challenges to be overcome as they begin preparing for the 2017 competition. The improved versions of the buggy used in the competition this year were lighter, with wheels designed to better provide traction in varied terrain. A supplemental drive system using a ratchet drive system and a redesigned gearbox also were added. Already planning for next year’s competition, the team has identified the changes that will be made. A new frame will be built, along with a new customized gearbox.

“The point of this course, and the purpose of this project, is to teach the basic principles of self-directed teamwork and problem solving through leadership, planning and self-evaluation,” Scott said. “They also learn about various technologies and engineering skills, which meets the curriculum requirement of the course.”

For Easton Parks, an industrial engineering technology major, the experience offers valuable experience that supplement course work.

“We learn a lot about the team aspect of problem solving—that one person can’t do it all,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with trust and organization.”


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