in the sand
The teams first presented their concepts and robots in a fluorescent-lit Pasadena conference room. The next day, they head into the desert, simulating conditions at the lunar south pole, with subzero temperatures and lethal radiation.
For the first-generation designs, their performance was commendable, says Jennifer Lopez, director of Astrobotic Technology, one of the companies NASA contracted to carry instruments to the Moon. The ET-Quad bounced a few meters over rough ground and then crashed. Caltech’s Mini-Zip line carefully moves up and down taut cables. The Arizona State University rover moved up and down at a 27-degree incline at a speed of about 3 meters per minute, or one-fifth the speed of the Perseverance rover, but over much rougher and steeper terrain.
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“One small step for a robot…” joked Arizona State engineer Connor Nail.
In the end, COBRA took top honors. He tried his three methods of commuting: First he proceeded along a dirt road until a small berm prevented him from doing so. When it caught a sagebrush bush, it assumed its spiral configuration and pulled through successfully. Fortunately, as one student pointed out, this won’t be a problem on the Moon.
Afterwards, as he slid down the hill in his rolling hexagon configuration, everyone present – students from all seven schools and judges alike – clapped in support. “That’s what it’s about,” says Eddie Tunstall, CTO of Motive Space Systems. “We all look for good ideas.”