Alabama Team Competes at NASA's Robotic Mining Competition
Tom Spendlove posted on May 26, 2017 |

This week dozens of teams tested their excavator robots at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Robotic Mining Competition (RMC) challenges students to build a robot that can perform mining functions on Mars. Regolith is the endgame for the robots, to be mined from simulated Martian soil and then processed to get water resources. Robots are expected to move over several types of terrain, detect the regolith, mine the regolith, and return it to a collector bin during a ten minute run.

This video shows Alabama Astrobotics' first competition run of the 2017 season and a successful mining sequence where they managed to mine 163 kilograms of regolith. The Astrobotics team were champions for the 2016 Robotic Mining Competition and made another strong showing this year. The team also participates yearly in NASA's Sample Return Robotics Centennial Challenge at Worcester Polytchnic Institute. The team is also engaged in several outreach activities, including a tradition of outfitting toy cars for special needs children (and lots of crimson detailing.)

Beyond the Robotic Mining Competition the weeklong event included several FIRST Robotics teams showing off this year's competition robots and younger students were displaying their Lego Mindstorms NXT robots in the Public Engagement Center.

The Robotic Mining Competition is incredible in scope, ambition and achievement of these student teams. One thing that always stands out to me but is hard to explain to the general public is the level of excitement at engineering and technology competitions. I can feel the same rush of adrenaline watching a robot score a last minute goal as I get watching the Superbowl or a hockey game. This competitive fire is definitely evident in the video where the announcers do a play-by-play of the mining while discussing the robots construction and the goals of the team. They also mention that the judges and teams are required to wear protective equipment because mining robots throw a lot of rock and dust.

The competition program really gives a sense of how many people are involved - teams, judges, event staff and speakers. Astronaut Hall of Fame member Robert Cabana, Caterpillar Excavation's Chief Engineer Steve Shoemaker and former NASA Senior Project Engineer Joe Kosmo were the event's featured speakers. 

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