A motor whirs to life and its tire starts to spin as team members begin the fine-tuning on their analog Mars rover. Students assemble around the rover to watch the arm articulate the wrist joint. Students start tuning–looking at the code (almost like a GPS) and analyzing the plaque (similar to a QR code). This allows for a better arm subsystem. While one system is being fine-tuned, there is much more being accomplished in preparation for competing in the University Rover Challenge (URC) and the Canadian International Rover Challenge (CIRC).
Austin Schmitz, project manager of MAVRIC, sits in anticipation to see the work his past 6 semesters have led to. Being a senior, his goal is to have this rover complete for competition by the summer of 2022. This would allow for him to hear whirring motors once more as he enters into the URC. MAVRIC is optimistic about doing well in this competition: 36 other teams from both around the nation and the world will be asked to compete on an international stage.
To get to this goal and get to the competition on time, MAVRIC had to play catch up due to COVID causing delays over the last year. There was frustration as the progress of fine-tuning and the movement of the rover was abruptly put to a halt. Since the pandemic interrupted working together in person, Schmitz and the team had to move away from working on the rover’s structure to instead focus on the electrical components that could be worked on virtually. Although this caused a delay in the process of finishing the project, the rover is almost complete and will be ready to dominate other teams.
Schmitz has learned the process of building and working with this rover throughout the last couple of years. He has been able to increase his technical knowledge. However, he has not always felt this comfortable in the M2I environment. Walking into his first MAVRIC meeting freshman year he felt the anxiety and intimidation in his stomach. Now he looks back and can feel the pride in his accomplishments and skills learned. Schmitz is glad he had this opportunity to learn everything he could from this project: mechanical skills, technical skills, driving systems, and hands-on skills. Since these opportunities are often not presented within the classroom, Schmitz felt that Make to Innovate (M2I) has provided another outlet to engage students in activities that relate to their major.
MAVRIC has allowed Schmitz, along with the other students on the team, to gain the technical elective credits needed for class while also applying real-world experiences that can’t be learned while sitting in class. These experiences and skills make an impact when talking with companies or places of interest following graduation or to start finding an internship. By Iowa State University having M2I as a technical elective, companies can see that these are some of the best school course projects available to students to link their classroom knowledge to the real world. “This has been the most impactful thing in my college career,” Schmitz said. Along with the students, experienced faculty advisors are involved with the process to help students achieve the completion of their projects.
“MAVRIC needed help with electrical systems and automation systems, so that is where I was brought in,” Nelson said.
Matt Nelson is the faculty and technical advisor for MAVRIC. While this project does not currently work directly with NASA or any other engineering company, Schmitz feels that there is high sponsorship potential. MAVRIC is continuing to finalize its rover and will conquer in the upcoming URC this following summer. “This project is one of the first University teams to go to a Rover Challenge,” Nelson noted. MAVRIC will whir its motors again as it completes its goal and reaches the competition.