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NDSU team competes at NASA robotic mining competition

A team of NDSU engineering and computer science students recently competed against schools from across the country during NASA’s eighth annual Robotic Mining Competition. The event was held May 22-26 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The teams were challenged to design and build a mining robot to traverse a simulated Martian terrain, excavate the surface and deposit mined material into a collector bin. The idea is to mimic, as closely as possible, an off-world resource mining mission.

The 16-member NDSU team placed 11th of 46 participating schools that included teams from Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Some of the category winners were the University of Alabama, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, University of Central Florida and Case Western Reserve University. The NDSU team placed fourth in the amount of regolith, or surface material, mined.

“We had three main goals – mine as much as possible, make the robot as light as possible while maintaining mining capacity and have the robot be fully autonomous,” explained Jacob Huesman, a junior electrical engineering major from Lake Park, Minnesota, who was the team leader.

The team constructed a backhoe-style digging mechanism designed to mine up to 40 pounds in a single scoop. Mined material was stored in a lightweight bucket with a 200-pound capacity. The team used a suspension system of tie-rods and levers to stabilize the machine, which enabled all four wheels to keep contact with the ground when it moved over uneven terrain.

“Being a part of the NASA Robotic Mining Competition team is one of the best choices I've made as an aspiring engineer,” Huesman said. “It pushed me to the limit, providing real engineering problems to tackle.”

The team spent many evenings and weekends during the academic year working on their machine, but Huesman said the long hours proved to be well worth the effort. Gaining teamwork and problem-solving skills while striving for a common goal are attributes that, he said, should help the students as they begin their careers.

“Employers love to see students who engineer in their spare time; being able to talk about and show a potential employer a problem you solved provides a huge leg up over the competition,” Huesman said.

The other team members are:

• Ben Dardick, a senior in mechanical engineering, from Eden Prairie, Minnesota

• Benjamin Mohan, a junior in computer science, from West Fargo, North Dakota

• Colton Gates, a junior in mechanical engineering, from Bismarck, North Dakota

• David Jedynak, a senior in electrical engineering, from Maple Grove, Minnesota

• Elliott Stone, a junior in mechanical engineering, from Bismarck, North Dakota

• Emma Schreifels, a senior in computer science, from Becker, Minnesota

• Haiming Lou, a senior in electrical engineering, from Eden Prairie, Minnesota

• Jessie Lee, a senior in mechanical engineering, from New London, Minnesota

• Josh Huesman, a junior in mechanical engineering, from Lake Park, Minnesota

• Kaleb Burnham, a sophomore in computer science, from Minot, North Dakota

• Marc Olberding, a senior in electrical engineering, from Rochester, Minnesota

• Noah Curfman, a junior in mechanical engineering, from Fargo

• Sam Fehringer, a senior in electrical engineering, from Duluth, Minnesota

• Samuel Willenbring, a junior in mechanical engineering, from Perham, Minnesota

• Tyler Toepke-Floyd, a senior in mechanical engineering, from Wishek, North Dakota

The team’s faculty advisers are Majura Selekwa, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Armon Myrick, laboratory technician and instructor in industrial and manufacturing engineering.

The team’s sponsors include Lund Motor Boats, the North Dakota Space Grant Consortium, NDSU Student Government, NDSU Department of Mechanical Engineering, NDSU Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, the Carlson Family, Sunbelt Rentals and Eyewear Concepts.

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North Dakota State University
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