LOWELL - Lowell is a far cry from the rocky, red terrain of the fourth planet in our solar system, Mars. Lowell lacks the impossibly high mountains and the lifeless, dry deserts that make Mars, well, Mars. But that does not mean a small piece of Lowell might not see the red planet someday, and the UMass Lowell ‘Rover Hawks’ are focused on making that chance a reality.
The Roverhawks—a play on the university’s mascot, the Riverhawks—are a team of engineering, computer science, and math majors who took an elective focused on robotics. They are a team of specialists, each working to develop a robot that can go through the rigor of a NASA test and prove its worth on the stage that could lead to the stars. Tewksbury’s own Cameron Morris works on this robot, focusing on signal processing and communication. The Roverhawks allowed the press to observe their robot going through a practice run last week. The robot was impressive in its debut, and its creators were excited for the next stage.
The robot will compete against 7 others from across the country—teams from Florida, West Virginia, Arizona, California, Utah, and WPI (Worcester Polytech), just down the road—and when it’s time for the competition, the only people able to direct the robot will be the students who built it, not their advisors. “When the contest comes, we are not allowed any contact with the students, other than logistical issues like transporting the robot to the testing site at Johnson Space Center,” said one advisor.
The Robot was built after the students applied for and received a grant—one of only 8 teams nationwide to qualify for this honor—for $10,000. This sum was used to construct the robot and to finance the team’s education on how to operate the robot. They were only given a limited amount of time to construct this robot. 6 weeks is not a lot of time to construct a machine capable of navigating through the treacherous passes of Mars, but the Roverhawks did it. The contest in Houston will offer a grand prize of $6,000, but will also include tremendous honor and recognition for the teams and the universities that they represent. The robot will have to travel along treacherous terrain, use its gripping tools to extract materials, communicate back to mission control what it finds, and many other objectives during the exhaustive test.
The robot will be competing at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX Thursday morning. Anyone who is interested can watch the robot compete in real time on the Roverhawk’s website, http://roverhawks.blogspot.com/