Planetary rover team of AGH UST Space Systems enjoys most successful start in robotic competition Rover Challenge Series

The planetary rover team, photo from private archives of AGH UST Space Systems

Planetary rover Kalman, photo from private archives of AGH UST Space Systems

The planetary rover team, part of AGH UST Space Systems, took second place in the international robotic competition Indian Rover Challenge 2019. Our students obtained the highest result in the category “astronaut assistance task”. They also scored very well in “science task”. So far, it has been the most successful result of the planetary rover team in the competition Rover Challenge Series.  

The Rover Challenge Series (RCS) is organised by the Mars Society, and is one of the most prestigious leagues of robotic competitions in the world. The Indian Rover Challenge is part of the RCS series, and the only one that takes place in Asia.  

The AGH UST team entered the competition with Kalman, the second after Phobos rover built within the framework of AGH UST Space Systems. Work on the rover have continued for over two years. At the moment, the team is composed of four units: mechanics, electronics, software, and science, whose members are in total 12 individuals from four faculties of the AGH University of Science and Technology and the Medical University of Silesia.  

In the final of the Indian Rover Challenge, reached by 10 out 35 teams in the competition, there were four events whose aim was to test the efficiency of various systems of the rover and its ability to deal with problems, which in the future may be faced by planetary rovers that would support astronauts colonising Mars. 

The objective of “traversal task” was to find three objects scattered on the area pre-defined by the organisers, and to deliver them to the drop zone. Both the objects and drop zones had to be localised with the use of GPS coordinates, and they were situated in a difficult terrain of various properties and characteristics. 

“Astronaut assistance task” was meant to test the efficiency of manipulators installed on the rovers. The task consisted in performing operations on switches, buttons, and levers, as well as placing a given object in a spot above the ground.  

“Autonomous task” tested the rover’s capability of localisation and mapping the area around it, as well as functioning without the help of an operator. In order to score points in this task, the rover had to move autonomously between a series of points determined by means of GPS coordinates, avoiding obstacles at the same time. This task was one of the most difficult challenges, as apart from starting the rover, it was not allowed to control it manually, which meant that all operations had to be taken over by a program installed on the on-board computer.  


The last task – “science task” – consisted of two parts. Within the framework of the first one, on a specified area the rover had to find a place that was interesting from a biological point of view, to document it be means of available sensors, to take samples, and finally to examine them from the perspective of life’s existence. The second part of the task was a presentation of obtained results and discussing their biological significance in the context of looking for traces of life on Mars.  


Each task had a time limit that could not be exceeded. The rover also had to be within a pre-determined weight range, operate without a breakdown, and communicate wirelessly with operators on a distance of up to 200 metres. Not satisfying even one of the conditions meant a large number of penalty points. Within the framework of the tasks, points were awarded for successes in particular operations, as well as moving on to the subsequent stages. 


The members of the jury who judged the completion of particular operations and moving on to subsequent stages was composed of the members of the Mars Rover Manipal team, as well as the lecturers of the Manipal Academy of Higher Education and the Manipal Institute of Technology who work in the field of robotics and mechatronic engineering. 


The robotic competition Indian Rover Challenge 2019 was held at the Manipal Institute of Technology, India, on 9-12 January 2019. 


Our students have been able to work on the planetary rover Kalman and take part in the competition thanks to the support of the AGH University of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, and sponsoring companies.