Monash Nova Rover star at the inaugural Australian Rover Challenge 2021

Monash Nova Rover, a student team dedicated to designing, fabricating, and testing the next generation of Mars rovers, successfully participated in the inaugural Australian Rover Challenge at the University of Adelaide over the weekend.

The team of engineering and science students were one of four teams to attend, along with student teams from the University of Adelaide, the University of New South Wales and RMIT. The team won the competition overall, with RMIT and the University of Adelaide achieving second and third place respectively. Will La Rue was selected as the Most Valuable Team Member.

The Australian Rover Challenge 2021 is a new addition to the international University Rover Challenge series run in the United States, Canada, Europe and India. Led by The University of Adelaide, in partnership with the South Australian Space Industry Centre (SASIC), and supported by the Australian Space Agency and the SmartSAT CRC, the Challenge aims to address the challenge set out in the Australian Space Agency 2019 - 2028 Civil Space Strategy to implement STEM initiatives and partnerships with industry to support the growth of a future workforce in the Australian space sector.

The Challenge involved university teams building and operating their own semi-autonomous rovers in a simulated lunar environment. Teams completed a series of tasks including a post-landing task, lunar resource tasks, lunar construction task and a semi-autonomous task. The rovers all conducted in-situ resource evaluation and interacted with the environment using a robotic arm and scientific payload. Students present their rover designs to industry professionals, academia and Australian Rover Challenge judges.

Team lead and sixth-year mechanical engineering and biomedical science student Rebecca Muir said, “We’re incredibly excited and proud to have been part of the first Australian Rover Challenge. It was fantastic to give our ‘Wombat’ rover design a run under competition conditions, given that we haven’t competed in a Rover Challenge since 2019. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get our entire team down to see their hard work come to fruition, but we really enjoyed meeting our fellow student competitors from across Australia, and appreciated the opportunity to develop new networks and friendships.”

Features of the team's winning ‘Wombat’ rover include:

  • A thirty-two kilogram modular chassis design with arm and science payloads that can easily be detached and removed.
  • An eight cell battery unit with integrated status display and improved emergency stop switch.
  • A graphic user interface featuring video feeds, dynamic maps and control systems.
  • Two gimbal cameras that pan and tilt to create situational awareness and perform object recognition and tracking.
  • A 5.8 GHz radio allowing for high bandwidth communications enabling quality video feed
  • 3D-printed wheels and novel four-bar suspension system that ensures wheel to ground contact at all times.
  • New robotic arm design with two finger end effector with an embedded linear actuator for dextrous key presses
  • Scientific payload with assays to perform resource collection and water quantification

Monash Nova Rover continue to build on their previous competition successes. In January, they received an Honorable Mention by NASA for their efforts in the NASA ‘Honey I Shrunk The Payload, The Sequel’ challenge, and also performed to a high standard in the 2018 and 2019 University Rover Challenge in Utah, finishing top 10 in the world in the 2019 event. Although the 2020 event was cancelled due to the pandemic, the team have since submitted their updated Wombat design to the Systems Acceptance Review stage of the 2021 competition and are awaiting the final results.

Faculty of Engineering Director of Student Teams Dr Scott Wordley said, “Congratulations to the Monash Nova Rover team for their outstanding performance at the Australian Rover Challenge. It is fantastic to see them showcasing their designs at this first ever Australian event, and supporting our new local teams to join this competition. We are also appreciative of the time and effort contributed by the Event Organisers, Partners and the University of Adelaide who have hosted this year’s event.”

Find out more about Monash Nova Rover

Find out more about the Australian Rover Challenge