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SIU students win NASA contest to design mining robots for the moon

moon mining siu
A computer-aided drawing of prototype mining robot built by a team of student engineers at Southern Illinois University Carbondale won the virtual competition at NASA’s annual LUNABOTS competition.

CARBONDALE (WSIL) -- A group of SIU students didn't let a pandemic and virtual learning prevent them from shooting for the moon.

A team of engineering students received first place in LUNABOTS, NASA’s annual robotics mining competition. The contest, featuring dozens of teams from around the country, began last fall and recently concluded with an awards ceremony, where the SIU students learned they had earned the most points in the virtual side of the competition.

In the competition, students receive practical experience in the full engineering lifecycle process, from concept development to end product.

The competition required the teams to design and create a 3D computer-aided drawing of their own mining robot and to produce a research paper detailing the steps and reasoning the members used to arrive at their design, as well as how they plan to improve the design next year.

“We were asked to present a design for a robot that can function on the moon, driving, avoiding obstacles and mining through a layer of dust, and then extracting gravel buried beneath the dust,” Lindsay said. “This is to simulate navigating and extracting ice from beneath the surface of the moon.”

Team members included majors in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer engineering and computer science programs.

Last year, NASA hosted two robotics-mining competitions, one of which involved teams producing a physical robot and the other – the one SIU won – virtual.

Bruce DeRuntz, professor in the School of Applied Engineering and Technology and faculty adviser to the team, said the competition prepares new engineers by giving them a very difficult problem that cannot be solved by any one person.

“The students learn how to work together as a technical team to develop a solution and then implement it,” DeRuntz said. “They also get to compete head-to-head against other universities the same way their future company would be competing in the business world.”

Members of the team, their hometowns and majors include:

Illinois

  • Clark Lindsay, Creal Springs, mechanical engineering and computer science 
  • Mayson Pine, Makanda, mechanical engineering
  • Gretchen Volling, Joliet, computer engineering 
  • David Kotarba, Elmwood Park, mechanical engineering
  • Jed Vergara, Beecher, electrical and computer engineering
  • Makenna Yergler, Metamora, electrical engineering
  • Jack Jarman, Benld, electrical engineering
  • Zachary Hughey, Carbondale, mechanical engineering 

Wisconsin

  • Benjamin Trewin, Platteville, electrical and computer engineering
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Kenzie Dillow

Kenzie Dillow is the Social Media and Digital Content Manager at News 3 WSIL. She joined the team in 2016 as a video editor, moved into a Producer role in 2017 and took over the SMDCM position in 2021. Kenzie graduated from SIU Carbondale in 2016 with a Bachelor’s in Sports Broadcasting and a minor in Advertising.

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