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Polish Space Robot Makes Podium
August 26, 2010   
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A Martian robotic vehicle designed and built by a group of Polish students took third place in the annual University Rover Challenge, an international competition for space exploration vehicles that was held in the U.S. state of Utah in early June.

The Polish rover, called Magma, was the only robotic vehicle from Europe; it beat rival vehicles from the United States and Canada after a tight contest.

A simulated mission to Mars took place in the harsh surroundings of a Utah desert June 3-5. A total of 12 rovers were submitted for the competition, all designed and built by university and college students from different countries around the world.

The first challenge for the teams was to have their robots officially entered in the competition. The judges checked the weight of the rovers, the quality of the materials they were built from and the workmanship. Only seven rovers were selected for the final stage of the competition, and Magma turned out to be the lightest rover in its category, at 53 kilograms.

Over the days that followed, the teams faced four complicated tasks during which they were expected to run a site survey, deliver a medical kit to an injured astronaut, perform remote equipment servicing and search for “signs of life.” Points were awarded to the teams for quick completion of the tasks, techniques and imaginative ideas. The rovers and their designers had to cope with extreme conditions such as bumpy terrain and sandy soil that caused many rovers to get stuck; scorching heat disturbed the work of some devices. Some teams failed at individual tasks.

The Polish team impressed the judges in the final event in which the rovers were required to take a soil sample of a specific weight and return it to base for examination.

“We are very happy with our success and would like to thank everybody for their support,” said Wojciech Głażewski, one of the Magma designers.

The team behind the project

Magma is a remotely controlled Mars exploration vehicle fitted with a camera that employs the RODM algorithm designed by Polish mathematician Jan Kotlarz. A thoroughly innovative device, the rover was designed especially to endure the extreme conditions at the University Rover Challenge, the designers say.

Magma was built by mechanical engineering students from the Białystok University of Technology aided by colleagues from the Faculty of Physics, Astronomy and Applied Computer Science of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń.

The students were assisted by the Polish branch of the Mars Society, an international organization that aims to promote the idea of a manned mission to Mars and Mars research. The organization brings together scientists; aerospace engineers such as Robert Zubrin, who has mapped out a plan for the colonization of Mars; astronauts like Buzz Aldrin, who took part in the first landing on the Moon; filmmakers like James Cameron; writers and other enthusiasts—all those who share the vision of human presence on Mars.
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