BlueSat’s BlueTongue Rover off to Poland

Tell us a bit about yourself

My name's Chris and I'm 21 years old. I study mechanical engineering and physics and my favourite subject so far has been Engineering Design. I like the idea of turning your theories into something tangible and useful.

Have you used this rover in any competitions before?

Not yet. We have been building it for a year and a half now. This is our first time taking it out, playing around with it and seeing how we go. It marks our first real entry into a contest and competing.

Mechanical Engineering student, Chris and colleagues with the BlueTongue RoverWhat’s the story behind the BlueTongue?

We were entering the contest as BlueSat and we gave the arm a blue colouring. It kind of gave the rover a blue tongue look. We thought of representing Australia and the idea of a Blue Tongue, people liked it and it caught on.

What does the challenge in Poland involve?

There are four challenges. If you have people on Mars and things go wrong, who is going to help fix that. It’s all about creating that generation of rovers where challenges include taking a core sample of martian soil, which is a generic mars robot thing.

You have challenges like picking up a tool, taking a tool and delivering it to a spot, being able to take a voltage reading, change some parameters to get a system back online again and another one, which is autonomous.

Do you think you have a good chance of winning? 

There are a lot of people who've kept their rovers very hidden. I think we have a chance to do quite well.

Where are the competing universities from?

There are teams from India, probably two teams from the US. There are people from Egypt and from all over Europe.

What has your preparation for the competition involved?

Using the robot, trying it out and seeing if it works as well as fixing it up and getting handling experience. If things break, learning how to fix them and learning how to prevent them from breaking. Getting spares and a lot of testing, a lot of hands-on trying it out, seeing if it works and if it doesn't, figuring out why it doesn't and fixing it.

How many days does the competition go for?

The contest is two days, held in Szczecin, Poland. We have a few days to get everything working over there and if it is not working right we can source parts if we need to get things fixed.

How many people are in the team?

The team has over 20 members. It’s a big team. The society is about forty. It is a pretty big society at this point and then the team going is just five of us heading over on Monday. 

What are the estimated hours that have gone into preparing for this competition?

Probably hundreds of hours. I can't even imagine how long it has been – over a year. 

Am I right to describe it as like an agility course that the rover is on?

The competition is designed to put the rover through its paces and see if it can do what it is supposed to do. I want to see what breaks and then we can see what we did wrong. Then we can fix it and do better and learn from it. A lot of it is just about learning. But I guess the track is like an agility course. It’s all about getting it going better next time.

Will you compete next year? Is this an annual competition?

We are hoping to. We entered for the University Rover Challenge in Utah but we weren't ready and they stalled that, but we trying to get into that maybe next year. Regardless, we are going to try and get something really, really impressive.

What has been the best part of being involved in this team, to date? What have you really enjoyed?

I have enjoyed getting hands-on experience, because at uni it’s hard. They give you design subjects and say design. You say, okay well I'll put this bolt there and it all works in theory but having to build it you go, oh wait that really doesn't work and you learn from those experiences of going well what actually works and how that knowledge can be applied. You talk to machinists, you talk to other engineers and you get some real life experience about how to do things right or more how you did them wrong.

Do you see yourself moving into this sort of area when you graduate?

Potentially. As a kid, I went to NASA for the launch of a space shuttle. So for me space has been, that is, what I want to do, that is what I want to be whether it be manifested through rovers or rockets.

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