Water on Mars! – European Rover Challenge 2022

Find out what the latest edition of the ERC had to offer.

September 23, 2022

by

Aleksandra Szczepaniak

With inspirational meetings and lectures, exploring the universe and witnessing or, better yet, participating in the space robots competition, what other emotions can the European Rover Challenge evoke if not fun, excitement, curiosity and the thrill of rivalry? Let’s take a closer look at the 8th edition of the largest space robotics contest in Europe.

The ERC 2022 competition

Sunday, September 11, 2022 marked the end of the 8th edition of the European Rover Challenge – a highly prestigious space robotics event and competition held annually in Poland. 

The ERC 2022 took place on September 9-11, 2022, at the Kielce University of Technology in Poland and was held in two formulas: on-site and remote. 

For the on-site formula of the ERC, teams of students from all over the world need to design and construct a fully functional Martian rover. The teams that get singled out in the process of qualification, have to compete with their mobile robot in Poland on a specially prepared surface simulating that of the Red Planet performing various demanding tasks.

In the remote formula of the contest, first introduced in 2020 because of COVID-19 pandemic, each team uses the same equipment – a Leo Rover mobile robot and a UR robotic arm.

Leo Rover at the ERC 2022
The Leo Rover robot used for the remote formula of the ERC 2022

The teams can participate in this formula from anywhere on Earth as they simply connect remotely to the rover and navigate it across the artificial Mars terrain performing tasks. The winning team is going to be the one who best prepares their software needed for the mission and shows great skills in team management.

Members of the Leo Rover team who supported the remote formula of the ERC 2022 in Kielce, Poland (From the left: Szymon, Błażej, and Piotr)

As usual, the arena for the competition (for both formulas) was a large artificial Mars yard reflecting an actual terrain of the Red Planet. This year, the layout of the surface was built in the image of Martian plains called Elysium Plantitia and Utopia Plantitia.

Weathering the challenge

The European Rover Challenge is no picnic for the contestants. And it surely wasn’t one this year. As research shows, the Martian plains the artificial track was inspired by in the 8th edition were formed by fire and ice. Hence, the participants could expect to run into a trace of water on the simulated terrain during the contest. Well, they did find traces of water, alright. 

At some point, courtesy of the rainy weather, the ERC Mars yard turned into a wetland. Although the regulations of the ERC allow for the competition to be carried out even in the rain, it doesn’t mean it was easy this way. It was a challenge for both the participants and the organizers as the contestants' robots in the on-site formula needed to be protected so as not to get wet.

Participants’ rover protected from rain

Even though the Leo Rover platform is watertight and a little rain and splashes won’t do it any harm, the extra equipment mounted on top of it is another story. And because of that, the rover wore a protective cover to seal the additional gear, as you can see in the picture below ;)

Leo Rover in a protective cover at the ERC 2022
Leo Rover on the ERC 2022 Mars yard with a protective cover

The winners of the ERC 2022

ERC 2022 prizes
ERC 2022 prizes
source: www.facebook.com/europeanroverchallenge

On the podium of the on-site formula of the 8th edition of the European Rover Challenge stood the following teams:

  • 1st place – AGH Space Systems (Poland)
  • 2nd place – EPFL Xplore (Switzerland)
  • 3rd place – ITU Rover Team (Turkey)

In the remote formula, the prizes went to:

  • DJS Antariksh (India) for the 1st place
  • Mars Rover Manipal (India) for the 2nd place
  • Project RED (Italy) for the 3rd place

Interestingly, the three best teams from the remote formula were the very teams whose videos I presented in the article on ERC Simulation Task. What were the odds? Maybe I’m a psychic ;)

Apart from the main prizes, some of the contestants of the ERC 2022 were awarded extra prizes and honorable mentions for remarkable performance in each category.

Much more beyond the contest

Apart from the rover competition in which teams from all over the world participated, there were other surprises and attractions for visitors. They could attend educational workshops, observe scientific experiments, and indulge in interacting with technologies and space. For instance, the visitors had the opportunity to explore the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, see a replica of Neil Armstrong’s space suit, control robots and meet specialists from space agencies. There was also a special Children’s Zone where the youngest visitors could learn about the universe in a mobile planetarium, principles of physics, and construct robotic devices.

As every year, in 2022, a major part of the European Rover Challenge was the Inspiration Zone, where visitors could attend a number of workshops and lectures. The ERC lasts 3 days and each of them has its theme to which the experts’ lectures are devoted to, and they are Mars, the Moon and Earth.

Dive into the ERC

If you’re a true space and robotics enthusiast, the European Rover Challenge is bound to be about your speed. Here, you’ll learn more about the previous edition, the ERC 2021. And if you’re curious how participants prepare for the remote formula of the ERC, read this article.

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