Mars Rover Challenge

The Maryland Autonomous Space Agency (MASA) Mars Lander has just arrived on the surface of the red planet. The touchdown was as soft as being dropped from a height of 6 inches. One side of the hexagonal pyramid (with a minimum interior dimension of 10 inches) Lander is about to lower to create a ramp. The green color on the inside of the Lander contrasts with the red of the planet surface. Inside the Lander is the Mars Rover that your team of up to two students have designed, about to start its journey on the surface.

A boulder field starts about 3 feet from the Lander. About 14 feet away to the East, right in front of the rising sun, is an interesting boulder. This boulder has been nicknamed the "Coffee Can" by MASA scientists because it looks remarkably like a plastic container for ground coffee. Could the "Coffee Can" boulder contain evidence of life?

The mission for the Mars Rover is to traverse the Martian surface to investigate this interesting boulder. Specifically, the Rover must touch the boulder with a probe that samples for life.

The Martian surface between the Lander and the boulder is canyon strewn with obstacles. White streaks on the canyon floor lead in the general direction of the boulder. Of course, these streaks are often covered by rocks that, in the eyes of one observer, look like various types of masonry and several paving bricks.

Detailed Specifications and Challenge Judging Guidelines

The competition involves four main components, documentation in your engineer’s notebook, an oral report, the design and construction of the entry, and the demonstrated performance.

Engineer’s Notebook (Competition Value: 10 Points)

Be sure and describe the reasons behind all of your design choices. How is your product designed to operate in the expected environment? Include any program code that you have generated and a flow chart for any program. There should be an entry for every day.

Oral Report (Competition Value: 10 points)

In the 5-10 minute oral report, describe in detail the steps that you took to solve the problem presented in this technology challenge, the design difficulties and the decisions made. The description should include a flow chart of any programs used. Also provide the audience with a description of the work allocation with in the team and the difficulties of working together with other students. Talk about the educational value of working in teams. Oral presentations normally include an introduction, the body of the material, and a summary that includes the most important conclusion and also future plans. Visual aids should be employed.

Design and Fabrication (Competition Value: 0 Points)

This challenge is for LEGO® MindStorm rovers. Students may use the parts in one LEGO®MINDSTORMS® Education NXT Base Set and should design a package of sensors to be installed on their rover. The rover should then be programmed to avoid obstacles while moving autonomously towards the finish line.

The probe that samples for life looks like a 2-inch stub of a #2 pencil and you should supply your own. The eraser end is the sensitive part. To properly sample, the probe has to touch the boulder and it has to be connected to the rover (within 5 inches of the center of gravity) when testing.

Performance Demonstration (Competition Value: 30 Points)

  1. The Lander will be dropped onto a green hexagon then the rover must make its own way to the Coffee Can in as little time as possible.
  2. A maximum of three minutes will be allowed for each trial. This includes the time it takes the team to get ready at the beginning of their turn.
  3. If the rover does not reach the boulder, the time will be recorded as 90 seconds plus 1 second for every foot of distance from the boulder.
  4. Once all teams have tested, the track will be rearranged. Teams may then take turns trying again until the time allowed for trials expires. The best (shortest) time from any trial will be your score.
  5. Teams may desire to change or modify their program before or between trials.

Judges can modify or interpret the rules as necessary to ensure a fair and equitable challenge. The decisions of the judges are final and binding.


Last updated 24 November 2010
© P. A. Wiedorn 2009