Is it possible for three first years and a second year to construct a working rover within 3 weeks from scratch? Depends on how you define working…
Over the course of around 8 months, the team worked hard to design everything within the competition deadlines. Within our team of ten, there were three main sub-teams – Cargo (the robotic arm), Propulsion and Structures (wheels, motors and body) and Power and Comms (batteries, circuit management, Wi-Fi communication).
After initial designs had been completed, quick prototypes were made to validate our ideas – or rather, invalidate them! After many design revisions and many late nights, we submitted our finalised design which would determine whether we would progress to the competition final. And a couple of weeks later, we got the confirmation that we had passed to the final!
Unfortunately, due to many personal circumstances misaligning and competition constraints, it was not looking good for our team: we had around three weeks to construct and test the rover with two or three people in person able to work on the rover at any given time.
We immediately set about redesigning and simplifying the rover to make it feasible to construct with the time and resources available to us. The largest change was probably to the rover structure which was originally set to be milled from aluminium angles and flat bars; with university mills almost completely booked up, we were forced to switch to a laser-cut plywood construction. As soon as this was finished, we began constructing the (most) critical subsystems. With labs only open until 5, we shifted over to our electronics team lead’s flat to construct the majority of the rover, and we tried our best to minimise our antisocial behaviour from our loud power tool usage late into the night!
With the competition in a few days, the rover was finally coming together. Around a week of consecutive British Weather moments (lots of rain) meant we had to submit our readiness videos demonstrating the core functionalities of our rover very last minute!
And finally, it was time to pack our suitcases and head to Airbus Stevenage for the first day of the competition, throwing in anything that might be remotely useful (lots of duct tape!). The following 24 hours were a very stressful 24 hours… plagued by integration hell we pulled an all-nighter the night before the competition trying to troubleshoot issues with the rover and this continued right up until it was our slot on the Mars yard!
And then – it was the moment of truth. Would the rover work? Up to this point, the rover had never been tested. And… success! We successfully connected to the rover and were able to control it remotely. However, unfortunately, issues arose, and we soon lost connection due to power issues with the onboard Raspberry Pi.
The second day was the vibrations test at RAL Space in which we fared surprisingly well. The few seconds as we approached our rover’s peak frequency during the high sine test were extremely nerve-wracking, but somehow our rover stayed intact!
Not bad for a team of almost all first years! With the time and resources we had, we were pretty chuffed at what we were able to accomplish and while at times it was incredibly tough overall it was a great experience.