Mock Mars Rover Competition Honors Best Student Designs

European rover challenge
Teams from around the world competed in the first annual European Rover Challenge, a competition to design and build a rover for a mock Mars mission. (Image credit: Robert Zubrin)

This past weekend, students from around the world faced off in a competition to test mock Mars rovers designed to explore the surface of the Red Planet.

The first annual European Rover Challenge, the European version of the U.S. University Rover Challenge, was held Friday through Sunday (Sept. 5-7) in Poland's Swietokrzyskie region. Teams from Poland and Egypt swept the top places in the three-day competition.

"Scorpio Team" from Wroclaw University of Technology in Poland scored first place; "Impuls Team" from Kielce University of Technology, also in Poland, placed second; and the "Lunar and Mars Rover Team" from Cairo University in Egypt rounded out third place, the competition's organizers said. [7 Most Mars-Like Places on Earth]

Robocol Team, from the University of the Andes in Colombia, won a special bonus award (bonus points were awarded for completing additional tasks to the main challenges).

The nongovernmental organization Mars Society Polska launched the challenge as a way to give university students the opportunity to learn how to design, build and test a rover that could assist on a future manned mission to Mars.

Twenty-four teams registered for the competition, including teams from Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Colombia, Egypt, India, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States. Of these teams, 17 made it to the second phase by sending in final confirmation, and 10 advanced to the three-day competition. (Due to visa issues, some of the students were unable to attend.) In total, nine teams took part in all the tasks and completed the competition, the organizers said.

During the contest, the rovers attempted to complete five tasks in a simulated Martian environment. For the first task, they had to gather samples of rock, surface soil and deeper soil, and transport them back to the rover base. The second task involved navigating to three specified locations, without using a camera. For the third task, teams had to repair a mock reactor system. The fourth task involved retrieving a spare part from storage and transporting it to a repair site. Lastly, the teams presented their rover to a panel of judges.

The organizers set a maximum budget of $15,000 (about 11,600 euros or 48,600 Polish zloty) for each rover, which the teams had to raise themselves. The students also had to provide documentation of how they built the rovers and managed the project.

Science & Technology Picnic, Poland (Image credit: Robert Zubrin)

The rover challenge coincided with a conference on "Humans in Space," held the same weekend in Poland. Keynote speakers included Robert Zubrin, founder and president of The Mars Society, a nonprofit organization based in Lakewood, Colorado, and G. Scott Hubbard, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford University and a former director of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. Other talks at the conference addressed issues such as space medicine, law, education and art.

A two-day science and technology picnic — featuring drones, rockets, robots, flight simulators and more — rounded out the weekend festivities.

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Tanya Lewis
Staff Writer
Tanya was a staff writer for Live Science from 2013 to 2015, covering a wide array of topics, ranging from neuroscience to robotics to strange/cute animals. She received a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a bachelor of science in biomedical engineering from Brown University. She has previously written for Science News, Wired, The Santa Cruz Sentinel, the radio show Big Picture Science and other places. Tanya has lived on a tropical island, witnessed volcanic eruptions and flown in zero gravity (without losing her lunch!). To find out what her latest project is, you can visit her website.