UK robot to be tested for moon readiness in earthly conference

By Jennifer Miles

A small group of engineering students have taken on the challenge of building a robot designed to retrieve minerals from the moon.

UK’s student branch of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. will enter the robot in an April 5 tournament during the IEEE SoutheastCon conference in Huntsville, Ala.

Several organizations are in competition to retrieve these minerals and return them to earth.

Peter Ferland, an electrical engineering junior and the chair of UK’s robot contingent, said the team is composed of half a dozen engineering students. They began building the robot in October.

“The contest offers engineering students a chance to tackle a design problem start to finish, providing valuable experience for future engineers,” Ferland said.

In the tournament, each team must build an autonomous robot that will perform on an earth-bound course, collecting colored wooden blocks representing moon minerals and returning them to its home base to score points. The block’s color determines the number of points the team will receive.

The eight teams with the most points after three preliminary rounds advance to play in a tournament to decide the overall winner.

UK’s robot has two decks of plastic with a gripper in front for collecting blocks, two drive wheels and a caster, Ferland said.

“The bottom deck has the gripper, the motors for the wheels and a large battery pack,” Ferland said. “The upper deck has the logic board and sensors.”

Regina Hannemann, a lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at UK and the IEEE Student Branch Counselor, served as an adviser to the students. She said the competition is held annually, with a different task to solve every year.

“UK has participated in the competition for a long time,” Hannemann said. “So, it is kind of a tradition to go to SoutheastCon and have a robot in the hardware competition.”

UK has not entered for the last three years, Hannemann said, even though some effort was made to build robots. This year’s team has been working hard, she said.

“They’ve worked on it a few hours per week since the beginning (of the fall semester) and put in some extra hours now over spring break to get the robot finally done,” she said.

Ahmed Abdalla, chair of UK’s branch of IEEE, did not help directly in building the robot, but served as a manager. The electrical engineering senior organized the construction by ordering parts and organizing the trip to the conference. He said he is excited about the competition.

“We are representing UK and we get to compete with big schools like MIT and Virginia Tech,” he said.