team of engineering students at The University of Texas at El Paso were recipients of the Lunar Lava Tube Exploration Challenge Supply Award to develop a robot to navigate and explore underground lava tubes on the moon. They include, clockwise from top left, Alan Melendez, Sebastian Oropeza, Jennifer Chavez, Bryan Rodriguez and Alejandro Vera. | Photo courtesy UTEP
A team of students at The University of Texas at El Paso College of Engineering were named recipients of the Lunar Lava Tube Exploration Challenge (LLTEC) Supply Award to support the development of a robot that can navigate and explore underground lava tubes on the moon.
The team is set to compete in the upcoming national 2021 Artemis LLTEC Grand Challenge competition sponsored by the Washington NASA Space Grant Consortium.
Lava tubes serve as ideal locations to construct a base for future astronauts to shield them from the harsh environments of space. Competing teams are challenged to design a robot that must navigate small tubes, vertical holes and deploy structures underground.
UTEP’s Selene Lunar Tube Research Team is mentored by Robert C. Roberts, Ph.D., assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, and includes five undergraduate students — Jennifer Chavez, Alan Melendez, Sebastian Oropeza, Bryan Rodriguez and Alejandro Vera. The group is developing a robot that utilizes machine-vision algorithms to better navigate the terrain of space.
“Participation by our students in engineering competitions, such as this NASA-inspired national event, is important as it challenges them to innovate and apply their hands-on knowledge and teamwork to solve cutting-edge problems,” Roberts said.
Chavez is an electrical engineering major who is enthusiastic to share her abundant knowledge and experience in computer science applications and coding to help her team build a competitive robot.
“I look forward to working further with my team and finding solutions to the problems at hand,” Chavez said.
Melendez is an electrical engineering major and is excited to take part in this challenge because it allows him to combine his interests of electrical and mechanical engineering, computer science and robotics.
“I’m proud I have been selected to work with the Washington NASA Space Grant and been given the ability to design, produce and program a robotic system from the ground up,” Melendez said.
Oropeza is a freshman mechanical engineering major. He feels participation in this challenge will provide him with hands-on experience that will help prepare him for future career endeavors.
“I have an interest in robotics,” Oropeza said. “I seek to prepare myself for the robotic and manufacturing industry by learning and participating in activities that will teach me skills and knowledge for my future.”
Rodriguez is an electrical engineering major and hopes to play an integral role in advancing technology in the future. He sees being part of this competition as a step in the right direction.
“I see this as an opportunity to acquire new knowledge in robotics and start the process to accomplish my goal,” Rodriguez said.
Vera is a junior electrical engineering major who hopes to further develop the skills that he has learned in the classroom and apply them to the robotics field.
“I hope to learn lots of new things while working on this challenge as well as teach my team and other students from my experiences,” Vera said.
The $2,000 supply award provides support for students to acquire the necessary hardware, sensors, and electronics to build their robot design. The UTEP team is currently refining its design and conducting tests using simulation, as well as engineering mockups in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Challenge activities began in January 2021 will commence with the Grand Challenge taking place later this year.
Author: Christina Rodriguez – UTEP Communications