A Note From Your Friendly Neighborhood Design Center Director

Dateline: Hanksville, UT Thursday, May 29, 2014

Today started with the team fixing breakfast on the deck at the “Bates Motel”. Afterwards we made a quick trip to the “store in the rock” for generator gas and to the grocery shop for some milk.

The team then spent the morning and early afternoon de-bugging a set of serious issues regarding the BMS (battery management system) and communications/connectivity/camera issue, something to do with software/hardware interface that I do not understand (I am after all just a tired old metallurgist) the trusty EEs finally solved the issues in the early afternoon. Then the “short” trip to the Mars Research Station a few miles from town. After about five miles of black top we turned onto a rough trail on BLM land across the rugged terrain. 25 minutes and about 3.5 miles later we were at the research station. Its very rugged, inhospitable land with breathtaking beauty.

The team was able to hike along the “traverse course” to see the obstacles the rover would encounter on Saturday during that part of the competition. I shudder to think of our little Rover taking on the rugged inclines, rocks, snakes and scorpions along the route – the little engine that could…………It is challenging with traverses over the “rock garden”, a meter drop over a ravine, up a very steep incline with no way around, and a steep sideways traverse. Other obstacles were not available to observe, specifically, a location the rover will have to find using only GPS outside of the line of sight (they will not be able to see it except for the on board cameras in the “Astronaut Assistance Task”. The Rover will have to find the location and get within one meter of the astronaut to score points. If that were not enough, it has to find and then manipulate a set of four valves and a switch to activate a piece of equipment – I’m told that will be a piece of cake.

The team then drove further into the dessert (“desert;” He’s not an English major, either. -ed.) to set up and run the Rover through its paces. A 30 foot antenna provides the signal to the Rover that then performed many of the same tasks it will need to do in the next three days. The Rover performed well for the next several hours, giving the team much needed practice in performing the tasks. With the setting sun and barley any battery power left the team packed up and headed back to Hanksville.

They cooked dinner on the camp stove (an invaluable piece of equipment on this trip) ate and debriefed regarding the days activities. With a clear plan the team divided into groups. One group cleaning up the dinner mess, another making chicken salad for lunch tomorrow (canned chicken – smells like cat food according to one of the team members, I have to agree), and two other groups tweaking and working on the Rover. Still working on the BMS that only reads voltage and doesn’t really manage the batteries. No, I don’t know what I am talking about, its EE.

So at 1:00 a.m. in Hanksville, the team in still hard at work. Preparing for the day to come and the first day of competition. Are they ready? Yes. Are they as ready as they could be? Certainly not.. Remember, this is still only their second competition. They have lots to learn. But, they are organized and will produce a respectable result in terms of performance. This is a team that is organized and committed. They are determined to complete their mission to the very best of their ability. And, I am confident they will achieve that mission.

When do they sleep? Beats me. But then, who can really sleep at the Bates Motel? It comes complete with a really creepy innkeeper. All we need is some spooky house on the hill nearby…..and there probably is one if we looked hard enough or were brave enough to find it.

That is all for now. Signing off from “Design Center West” I am,

Your Friendly Neighborhood Design Center Director.