Robotics Club shoots for the moon after win on the court


J. Michael Bertsch, News and Lifestyles Editor

The South Dakota State University Robotics Club is heading to Kennedy Space Center to compete in the 2020 NASA Lunabotics competition.

Last fall, the club beat out schools such as the University of Minnesota, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Purdue University to take first place in the Land O’Lakes BOTSHOT competition. BOTSHOT, a robotics basketball competition, asked teams to build a robot able to successfully launch basketballs from the free-throw line and compete in a game of H.O.R.S.E.

The Robotics Club won first place along with a $10,000 check.

After spending last year shooting basketballs, the club is now shooting for the moon in NASA’s Lunabotics competition.

“This competition is at least an order of magnitude bigger than anything we’ve ever done before,” said SDSU Robotics Club President Joel Quanbeck. “This year we’re trying to go out there and compete, and I honestly think we could win.”

The NASA Lunabotics competition requires teams to design a robot that could realistically be used for lunar mining. It must be self-driving, self-navigating and capable of mining on the lunar surface by both digging and filtering the lunar gravel.

The robot will be randomly placed in a model of the lunar surface and must autonomously navigate the surface and successfully mine through frozen gravel. The judges will choose a winner based on the robot’s design and the amount of resources mined.

“The robots are randomly flipped around and dropped into the space,” Quanbeck said. “So the robot has to figure out where it is and what it’s doing without our help.”

The team will only have access to a screen that provides them with status updates and a message of whether their robot has failed.

To complete the challenge, the team uses a two-robot design with a separate robot to mine and a robot to drive to the dumpsite and drop off the mined products.

“This year they drastically reduced the size requirements of the robots,” Quanbeck said. “We also wanted to have a robot that was always digging.”

The team’s mission to the moon speaks to students. The robotics club’s membership jumped to over 50 active students for the 2019-20 school year and the club is completely student-run.

To fund their trip to the Lunabotics competition, the club recently completed a crowdfunding campaign on the SDSU Foundation’s new platform, Rabbit Raisers. The club’s first campaign finished at the end of the Fall semester, raising $2,871 to fund components for the rover.

The team is planning another crowdfunding campaign to fund travel expenses for members of the team.

The Robotics Club will compete May 18-22 at the Center for Space Education in Kennedy Space Center, Florida.