Oakton's STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) team made history at the annual NASA Robotic Mining Competition, conducted May 19--23, at Florida's John F. Kennedy Space Center, by collecting more simulated lunar dirt than any competing Illinois college or university -- or any community college since the contest's inception five years ago.
At the mining competition, open to undergraduate and graduate students from colleges and universities around the world, the "Oaktobots" gathered 49 kilograms of simulated lunar dirt with their entry "Oaktimus Prime."
The contest requires teams of students to design and build a remote-controlled excavator capable of collecting a minimum of 10 kilograms of simulated lunar dirt through an obstacle course rife with rocks and craters and depositing the gritty, dusty soil into a bin within 10 minutes.
The Oaktobots total was the seventh highest out of 39 teams from across the country, beating out two other teams from Illinois (University of Illinois at Chicago and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). Oakton's amount also exceeded teams representing prestigious colleges and universities throughout the United States, such as Arizona State University, University of Florida, and University of Michigan.
Oakton students who participated in the competition in the sunshine state include: Samuel Chong of Morton Grove; Raphael Codrean of Lincolnwood; Azher Gandhi of Skokie; Karolina Klimont of Des Plaines; Mahavish Mahmood of Norridge; Inamullah Sharif of Skoke; Anthony Terry of Buffalo Grove; Hsiang-Yi Tseng of Northfield; and Nagasuryarama Vegesna of Niles, all of whom are enrolled in an engineering independent study course taught by Angelo Gero, electronics and computer technology lecturer, who serves as the group's adviser.
"We really captured NASA's attention with our great run," said Gero, a Des Plaines resident. "Our performance blew away any expectation that I had heading into the competition. Our success was largely due to having a cohesive team that understood the technical limitations of the robot and being able to work around those restraints."
All 2014 competitors also will be judged on other factors including an oral presentation, a technical overview of the robot, outreach in promoting STEM disciplines, and team spirit. Gero said that it will take NASA a few weeks to compile the complete list of results.
"No matter what happens, we're the first community college to ever qualify for the mining competition by collecting more than 10 kilograms of simulated lunar dirt and finish in the top 10," he said.
Designed to engage and retain students in STEM, the NASA challenge requires teams to consider a number of design and operation factors for remote-controlled excavator entries, 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 -- was the culmination of more than six months of work. While NASA imposed no spending cap, Oakton's team created a robot on a budget of less than $5,000. While Oaktimus 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. Underwriters Laboratories, a safety consulting and certification company headquartered in Northbrook, sponsored the college's entry.
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