WHAT IS ERC?
The European Rover Challenge (ERC) is a Mars Rover design competition, first held in 2014 in Swietokrzyskie, Poland. It is Europe’s largest space and robotics event, directed towards both the tech sector and the public. This competition, unlike URC, is both a competition and an attraction, open to the public and also having booths and attractions from a large number of European tech companies, showing off their latest inventions. The ERC is part of the URC ‘Rover Challenge Series’, a worldwide series of rover competitions created by the URC coordinators.
Like both URC and CIRC, the event is designed to simulate an early colony on Mars, giving rovers tasks that could be done by humans controlling these rovers nearby. ERC has four different challenges: Science, Maintenance, Collection, and Traverse Tasks. These tasks are outlined in more detail below. The Official ERC Website can be found at the following link: http://roverchallenge.eu/en/
Four members of USST traveled all the way from Saskatoon to Kielce, Poland, during over 16 hours of travel. The rover, being shipped separately, was delayed. This left the team with a day off in Poland, but also one less day to get the rover ready for competition. Once it arrived, it was a tough few days, as the rover encountered a number of strange and unlucky electrical and software problems. The team worked tirelessy through the nights to get the rover ready for the challenges the following days. However, the hard work payed off, with the team taking 1st worldwide, out of 24 teams attending. A detailed blog of the teams trip can be found here.
The goal of this task is to scout the terrain for a sample that may be useful for analysis. Once a suitable location is found, photos are taken of the area and some in-situ measurements are recorded. Most of this task will be the sample retrieval, where the sample is held in a container on-board the rover and taken back to the base for analysis. Samples must not only be chosen from a suitable location, but also at different depths, to measure the differences.
This task is devised from the idea that there is a rover that takes samples of the soil, places it into a container, then leaves it behind while it goes to find another location. Another, faster rover will then come to pick up this container and carry it back to the base. Thus, the rover must be able to find these containers via GPS, and place them on-board the rover. The rover will then travel to a specified destination for delivery.
As the scenario for this competition is for the rovers to be working alongside humans, the rovers must accomplish tasks that limit the amount of times that humans must venture outside in the unforgiving Mars habitat. These rovers must be able to accomplish tasks that are require fine motor skills and delicate handling, such as exterior equipment repairs. In this competition, such tasks are included the operation of an electrical panel. The rover must toggle switches and take readings on the panel, along with other adjustments.
The purpose of this task is to demonstrate one of the core elements of rover operation, the ability to travel over rough terrain. Further, this task must be accomplished autonomously. Thus, the rover will be given a final destination, but must work out for itself how to get there. This task involves smart navigation strategies, many sensor readings, and image processing, all to make the rover operate autonomously as reliably as possible.