For the eyes of the World now look into Space,
To the Moon and to the planets beyond,
And we have vowed that we shall not see
It governed by a hostile flag of conquest,
But by a banner of Freedom and Peace
-John F. Kennedy
We are Inspired Karters: Team Gravity, a group of core enthusiasts building a human-powered rover.We participate in competitions where our rover traverses a rigorous obstacle course, which represents the hostile surfaces encountered by actual space rovers (like the Curiosity rover and the Moon Buggy). Our goal is to create a fast, durable and innovative human-powered rover to tackle such obstacle courses, and make the college and country proud. The competitions we will
participate in the near future are NASA’s Human Exploration Rover Challenge and the Astrover Competition. Until early 2020, we were officially known as Inspired Karters: Team BAJA. We participated in the SAE BAJA competition since 2008, and made quite a name for ourselves. We achieved a lot in the 12 years of our participation, and some of our very best performances include:
- Design event: AIR 1 (2011, 2014), AIR 6 (2016)
- Engineering analysis: AIR 2 (2011, 2014)
- Static event: AIR 1 (2012), AIR 4 (2013)
- Overall: AIR 13 (2011), AIR 8 (2013)
- Virtual Event : AIR 21 (2019)
- Awarded a grant from BITS Pilani, Pilani Campus for developing a unique ‘Leaning Suspension Attachment system’
It was in 2018 that we first realized the need to search for a new domain. Even though BAJA was an exhilarating adventure to be part of, we felt it was slightly conventional and the Team could try out only limited new ideas in design. Additionally, since we did not have convenient access to the resources needed for manufacturing a vehicle, creating the vehicle from scratch was a difficult task in Pilani. We wanted to participate in something in which we could be more creative, experiment with new ideas, and most importantly, enjoy ourselves. We started to look for alternate competitions, and last participated in SAE BAJA in 2020.
After a lot of brainstorming and deliberation, we zeroed down on two contests: NASA’s Human Exploration Rover Challenge and Astrover Challenge. In both the competitions, a human-powered rover was to be constructed to traverse an obstacle course, which would mimic the surface found on Mars and the Moon. The rules of the competitions allowed us to have a lot more freedom in designing our rover, and we had comparatively more accessible resources for its manufacture. Above all, it reflected the future of mankind, where humans would soon be exploring more of these territories and maybe even colonize them.
NASA’s Human Exploration Rover Challenge (HERC) is hosted annually at Huntsville, Alabama (USA). It is generally conducted in the month of April. The competition course requires two students (at least one female) to traverse a terrain using the student-designed vehicle. The track is of approximately 0.50 miles, and includes a simulated field of asteroid debris, boulders, an ancient streambed, and erosion ruts and crevasses. Teams earn points by successful completion of design reviews, designing and assembling a lightweight rover, successfully completing course obstacles, performing tasks throughout the mission, and meeting pre- and post-challenge requirements. The challenge’s weight and time requirements encourage the rover’s compactness, light weight, high performance and efficiency. Any country (Except the USA) can be represented by a maximum of four teams in the HERC. These teams are selected on the basis of merit.
The Astrover Challenge is another competition we look forward to compete in. It is hosted in Mumbai (India) in the last week of February. The track and the obstacles are very similar to the HERC challenge. Due to this reason, we will be looking to manufacture one rover, which represent BITS Pilani at both these prestigious competitions.
Undoubtedly, this pandemic has been a setback for a tech team like us, where our work requires a lot of practical experience. But as every cloud has a silver lining, the pandemic has also helped us in a variety of ways. We now have more time for brainstorming new ideas. We can focus more on research and create our best possible design. Additionally, modern simulation tools at hand have been tremendously helpful in testing our ideas. All these steps will lead to better findings and designs, and we will gain more knowledge of the working of each component.
As we come to an end on this first of many blog posts I am so glad to tell you that we are selected as one of the international teams for NASA HERC 2021 and we will be representing India at the international level at Marshall Space Center Huntsville Alabama.
We hope to make a memorable debut and continue with the utmost sincerity, hardwork and dedication to not only make our college but our nation proud. Presently, we are in the design phase of the rover. When college reopens, you will find the Team in our very own workshop, the ‘Carkhaana’, working on our first ever human-powered rover.