Oakton students are aiming for the moon while keeping their feet on the ground. The college is one of just 39 participants -- and the only community college in the contiguous United States -- to take part in NASA's fifth annual NASA Robotic Mining Competition, scheduled May 19--23, at Florida's John F. Kennedy Space Center.
The contest requires undergraduate and graduate students from colleges and universities to design and build a remote controlled robot capable of collecting and depositing a minimum of 10 kilograms of simulated lunar dirt within 15 minutes from a distance of 60 meters.
Members of Oakton's team heading to the Sunshine State include: Rafael Cordean of Lincolnwood; Azher Ghandi of Skokie; Karolina Klimont of Des Plaines; Mahavish Mahmood of Norridge; Inamullah Sharif of Skoke; Hsiang-Yi Tseng of Northfield; Nagasuryarama Vegesna of Niles; Uriel Alvarez of Glenview; and Anthony Terry of Buffalo Grove. Team "Oaktobot" comprises students enrolled in an engineering independent study course taught by Angelo Gero, an electronics and computer technology lecturer at the college, who serves as the group's adviser.
Designed to engage and retain students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, the NASA competition requires teams to consider a number of design and operation factors, including dust tolerance and projection, communications, vehicle mass, energy/power required, and autonomy.
The trip to the Kennedy Space Center -- the third for Oakton students -- is the culmination of more than six months of work. While NASA imposed no spending cap, Oakton's team created a robot -- Oaktomus Prime -- on a budget of less than $5,000. While Oaktomus is primarily made of aluminum, the group stretched its dollars by incorporating items from Oakton's campus, such as electronic switches and sealed lead acid batteries.
Ghandi, Oaktobot's captain, is confident his team will do well. "Our robot is essentially complete and ready for competition. I'm confident we'll do better than we did last year (Oakton didn't place in the 2013 competition), because we've worked out all the kinks! We're all really excited for this year's contest."
Gero said he can't wait to see how Oaktomus Prime stacks up against other robots in Florida. "Our students are so enthusiastic and this is a very solid team. Even though we're contending against some seasoned four-year schools, only Murphy's Law will prevent us from having a good showing."
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