York University Rover Team developing competition-ready robots inspired by the Mars Rover
Celebrate World Space Week with Lassonde and learn about the brilliant students who are programming robots to function like the Mars Rover.
More than twenty-five years ago, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) first Mars Rover landed on the red planet, embarking on a mission to explore uncharted territory and relay new information back to Earth. This pioneering rover revolutionized Mars investigation and inspired the design, development and deployment of similar intelligent robots. Following in the footsteps of NASA scientists and engineers, the York University Rover Team (YURT), part of the York University Robotics Society (YURS), is harnessing diverse expertise to create their own rovers and compete in national and international challenges. The team is primarily comprised of engineers and scientists at the Lassonde School of Engineering, spanning various disciplines across the School.
“Since joining the Rover Team, I’ve felt an exponential growth in knowledge,” says Demetre Koudoumnakis, team lead of YURT and fourth-year electrical engineering student at Lassonde. “I have a greater understanding of many interdisciplinary topics and the team has been so welcoming; almost all my friends are part of the club.”
Each competition is based on scenarios that a rover might face while surveying Mars. Teams must design and program their rovers to complete various tasks such as identifying points of interest, analyzing soil samples or diagnosing a given problem.
Since its inception in 2007, the Rover Team has forged a strong reputation by consistently placing among the top teams at various competitions, including a top-tier robotics competition, University Rover Challenge, which is tailored for students in higher education. This annual competition takes place in a desert region of southern Utah in the United States and involves over 100 international university teams vying for the first-place spot.
In preparation for next year’s University Rover Challenge, YURT is working on a brand-new prototype, which was used to compete at the Canadian International Rover Challenge, held in the badlands of Alberta in August 2023. The team aims to leverage their experience at this competition to improve their rover and achieve success in future challenges.
To design a well-rounded, capable and versatile rover, YURT divides work amongst four sub teams: software, mechanical, electrical and science. Students on each sub team come from a range of educational backgrounds, such as mechanical engineering, chemistry, biology and computer science – all contributing valuable expertise to achieve a unified goal.
“This club doesn’t just embody interdisciplinary work, it requires it – we wouldn’t be able to function without working together,” says Quardin Lyttle, former president and industry coordinator of YURT, and third-year electrical engineering student at Lassonde. “We need to collaborate with multiple disciplines to create a successful final product. Being a part of this team allows us to learn many things we wouldn’t learn in class. We design and manufacture things like printed-circuit boards, answer open-ended questions, and apply engineering knowledge in a more detailed fashion. These rover projects are very involved.”
In addition to preparing for intense competitions, YURT gives undergraduate students opportunities to explore the field of robotics. The York University Sumo Bot Team, part of the York University Robotics Society, helps students gain introductory experience with robotics. Students can also join the business and administrative side of the Robotics Society to become better acquainted with the club’s activities.
“It’s nice to be involved with the Rover Team, especially when I was a first-year student doing mostly theoretical work,” says Iyinoluwa Olu-Alabi, secretary of YURS and second-year software engineering student at Lassonde. “I’ve become a lot more familiar with robotics and I’ve gained experience with the business side of things like funding applications, marketing and recruitment.”
The York University Rover Team enriches the student experience by providing skill development opportunities, fostering multidisciplinary collaboration and promoting experiential learning. Currently, the team is gearing up for a year of challenging and thrilling competitions in 2024, aiming to place among the top teams in each one.
“My interests in space and robotics persuaded me to join YURS,” says Annamalai Karuppiah, club member and space engineering student at Lassonde. “This platform has helped to continuously reinforce the theory learned from lectures, while building numerous friendships and connections. I am eagerly looking forward to getting the rover up and running on a Mars-simulated field this year.”
Learn more about the unique clubs at Lassonde and how to get involved or start your own.