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UA students to compete in NASA robotics challenge

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The University of Alabama's Astrobotics Team will soon find out if it has what it takes to help NASA explore space. The team is gearing up for a competition at the Kennedy Space Center.The team is putting the final touches on the robot they built that they are calling "MARTE.""It's basically two robots in one, the top robot which excavates can separate from the bottom robot which drives and those both operate independently of one another and it's a great feature for taking things to space," said UA Senior, Kellen Schroeter. "On the software side of it, our robot competes completely autonomously so we press one button and it thinks for itself and takes care of the entire competition run without a driver and that's a difficult thing to do," added Schroeter.The team will be taking MARTE to compete in the NASA Robotics Mining Competition in Cape Canaveral.{}"They have 40 or 50 NASA representatives at the competition evaluating the robots and looking for things that they can use," said Kenneth Ricks, an Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UA.The team practices in sand but the robot is designed to work in a substance called Regolith, which is a material found in space. {} {}{}"You start at one end of the arena, you navigate through obstacles that you'd find on the moon or mars like rocks and craters, get to the other end of this arena, try and dig Regolith as much as you can, try to collect as much as you can in one cycle traverse back, off load it, and repeat that in 10 minutes whoever collects the most wins," said Schroeter.{}"They go through a complete design process from software virtual design all the way through fabrication things that are very difficult to necessarily get into the classroom and these skills are invaluable especially on a resume," added Ricks.The robot took an entire year to design and build. The team leaves for Florida this weekend and will compete next week.
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