Campus LifeNews

U of A students unveil new rover for international space robotics competition

Over 50 undergraduates worked on the rover, which the team named TARS after the robot from Interstellar

The new student group University of Alberta Space Exploration Alberta Robotics (SPEAR) team’s rover will be riding the Drumheller badlands rescuing stranded astronauts and repairing space equipment in an upcoming international robotics competition.

This is SPEAR’s first year as a student group and their first project. The team unveiled the rover this Wednesday in the engineering quad, showcasing its ability to traverse a range of terrain including dirt, grass, and pavement.

“Everything you see in the rover has been built from scratch in the last year,” said fifth-year mechanical engineering student and project manager Manmeet Brar. “We’re really proud of the progress we’ve made.”

The team named their rover TARS, after the tactical robot from the 2014 Academy Award-winning space drama Interstellar.

“We just wanted it to have a little bit of a fun backstory for being our first rover,” Brar said.

The SPEAR rover will go head-to-head against 17 rovers from other universities, including ones from the University of Toronto and Harvard, in the upcoming Canadian International Rover Challenge at Drumheller from August 10 to 13.

The team will operate the rover remotely to accomplish a series of tasks mimicking the work needed to establish a human colony on other planets. One scenario involves navigating at night to apply medicine and bandages to an injured astronaut. Another involves taking soil samples to home base for chemical analysis.

Brar said the competition won’t be all fun and games, some of the other teams have been competing in rover challenges for over five years. But the team’s goal isn’t necessarily to bring home gold, but rather to build new relationships in the space community and learn from fellow challengers.

“It is our first year, so we’re not going in thinking we’re getting first place,” Brar said. “But we’re really excited to learn from other team’s rovers and just get to know the community better.”

Brar said the success of SPEAR wouldn’t be possible without the support from both students and faculty. The student group receives financial support from the faculty of engineering, Students’ Union, and external sponsors including Shell and the electronic enclosures maker, Protocase. 

Over 50 undergraduate students, both inside and outside of engineering worked on creating TARS. Students teamed up to manage various aspects including, design, construction, finances, administration, and social media.

Brar said the team is always looking for new members and any interested students can reach out using SPEAR’s social media handle, @spaceualberta.

“Because this is our first competition everything about it is super exciting,” Brar said. “If you’re really passionate about space or robotics and want to learn more, reach out to us. We’re always looking to take more people on.”

Correction – August 30, 2018: A previous version of the article stated students could reach out to SPEAR using the social media hashtag #spaceualberta. This has been corrected with the proper social media handle.

Calvin Chan

Calvin Chan is a cell biology student with a keen interest in science writing.

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