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NYU Robotics Designs Towards Mars

March 20, 2017

NYU’s Robotic Design Team chose one of the four girls on its 30-person team to lead it during NASA’s Robotic Mining Competition in May. Tandon junior and mechanical engineering major Orion Doscher is a stolid and knowledgeable leader, proud of her team and is intimately involved in every aspect of her team’s work.

She not only leads the robot’s design and production but also handles the public resources and human resources while spearheading the fundraising campaign.

Since its inception, RMC has hosted more than 300 different robots and over 3,000 students from across the country including Alaska, Hawaii and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Teams are expected to not just be technical whizzes who can design and build an excavation robot, but also to be entrepreneurs.

In addition to their robot being judged, the teams’ systems engineering paper (a technical paper on the robot), social media and public engagement and outreach project report are also judged.

The team is building a robot that would, in theory, excavate dirt on Mars’ surface, since NASA wants to excavate the icy regolith that may contain water. In May, the team will head to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to compete. The team had to raise $8000 to cover the costs of building the robot as well as to fund travel and accommodations in Florida.

Doscher said The NYU’s Robotic Design Team robot sets itself apart in two key ways: the robot’s wheels dig instead of having a separate mechanism do it, and the final robot will hopefully be completely autonomous.

“What’s really cool about my team is we’re attempting autonomy, which is the robot navigating using SLAM [simultaneous localization and mapping],” Doscher said. “So we got a Lidar, which projects a two-dimensional array of dots, and the distances come back as a string of numbers. And based on that, you can determine how far away you are from an obstacle.”

Doscher’s team will compete with university teams from around the country, many of which are better funded and better equipped for the challenge. She said that in comparison, her team lacks a lot of the machinery helpful for building a robot, but they plan to utilize the three-dimensional printing available in Tandon’s MakerSpace to create the majority of its needed parts.

NYU is catching up to their counterparts, despite the limited space in an urban school. There are plans to build a workshop to make it easier for teams to design, build and win competitions. Doscher says that Chandrika Tandon – the person behind the namesake of Tandon – has been very supportive of her and her team.

Once complete, the robot is randomly placed in a dirt arena for the challenge. It must navigate to a dig site and dump the dirt it removes into a bin on the other side of the arena. Teams must collect 10 kilograms of dirt in 10 minutes — and with a robust robot on the horizons, Doscher looks forward to game day.

“We have a good shot,” she said.

Email Sayer Devlin at [email protected]

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