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Dartmouth Engineering Students Win NASA Award

Jan 11, 2021   |   by Julie Bonette

A team of eight Dartmouth engineering students was awarded Best Technical Paper at NASA’s Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge. The team was one of eight finalists selected from across the country to present lunar exploration technology concepts and prototypes at the BIG Idea Challenge virtual forum earlier this month.

The Dartmouth team’s idea, "SHREWs: Strategic Highly-compliant Roving Explorers of other Worlds," focuses on mobility achieved through a class of robots able to latch on to each other to minimize the chance of getting stuck or having to be rescued. The team took inspiration from shrews, who latch onto each others' tails, forming a train or caravan, in order to move in a quick and orderly fashion. The modular, collaborative rovers were designed to help explore the Permanently Shadowed Regions (PSRs) of the Lunar South Pole.

“I think the judges were surprised by just how different our rover was from existing technologies and impressed by the preliminary reading and analysis that went into producing a novel mobility system. Wheeled vehicles have been integral to human exploration for a long time, so those comments were good to hear as someone studying mobile robotics,” said Adam Gronewold, a Dartmouth engineering PhD candidate who served as team lead.

The other members of the winning team are:

  • Christopher Lyke ’21
  • Joshua Elliott, PhD Innovation Program candidate
  • Austin Lines, PhD candidate
  • Marguerite Généreux ’21
  • Grace Player ’21
  • Philip Mulford, PhD candidate
  • Andrew Skow ’21

“This team of four graduate students and four undergraduates worked almost entirely remotely to complete their design, fabrication, and testing. Their accomplishments are a testament to creative solutions to pandemic challenges faced over the past ten months,” said Professor of Engineering Laura Ray, the team’s faculty advisor.

In order to overcome difficulties encountered due to the pandemic, the team built robots out of garage labs across the country and modified testing plans as facilities restricted access. In order to perform simulations of the vehicles’ operation on the lunar surface, they dumped more than 2,500 pounds of sand on Professor Ray's lawn.

According to Gronewold, the team hopes to continue to work on the project under other NASA competitions and grants.

The BIG Idea Challenge is sponsored by NASA through a collaboration between the STMD’s Game Changing Development program and the Office of STEM Engagement's Space Grant and Fellowship project. The challenge is managed by the National Institute of Aerospace.

All of the teams’ presentations, technical papers, and digital posters are available on the BIG Idea website: http://bigidea.nianet.org/competition-basics/2020-forum-results.

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