BYU finished in Top 10 out of 100 teams representing 10 countries
The most Mars-like terrain on earth happens to be at the aptly named Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah. If someone wanted to test out a rover built to operate on the rocky, harsh conditions of the Red Planet, it’d be a good place to go. And it doesn’t take a rocket to get there.
Sure enough, that’s where BYU engineering students and undergrads from universities representing 10 countries traveled last weekend for the annual University Rover Challenge. There they tested their student-built rovers to the limits and the BYU team competed admirably with some of the finest student engineering minds in the world.
BYU’s team was one of only 35 finalists selected to compete in Hanksville and placed 9th out of 100 total teams. The University of Michigan won top prize, with Australia’s Monash University taking second place and the Missouri University of Science & Technology finishing third.
In the competition, run by The Mars Society, the rovers from BYU and the other schools had to accomplish a lengthy list of functions to prove their mettle:
- Manipulating toggles, switches, latches and keyboards
- Picking up and putting down objects
- Drilling through desert materials and detecting life
- Handling sand, wind, rain, whatever other types of weather conditions that arise.
In the end, BYU’s team, led by University Rover Challenge veterans Marc Killpack and McKay Christensen, performed best in the autonomous navigation mission, finishing fifth in that category. Countries represented in the competition included Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Colombia, Egypt, India, Mexico, Poland, Turkey and the United States.
And while the BYU Mars Rover is not the Perseverance Rover built by NASA now exploring for life on Mars, building it has prepared BYU engineering students for such adventures in the future.
“The BYU Mars Rover isn’t going to Mars, but the people who are developing it might,” said BYU mechanical engineering major Dallin Cordon. “And this isn’t a hypothetical. Currently we have BYU alumni working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab.”