Skip to main content
Department News

To the Red Desert and Beyond!

The Mars Rover team strives each year to improve the existing BYU Mars Rover, which drives on six wheels and features a robotic arm. After many months of hard work, the team takes the rover to the University Rover Challenge to compete in a series of tests.

With a team of 24 people, the Mars Rover team needs to be well-organized to stay on task, so it is divided into sub-teams with emphasis on the mechanical, electrical, and software aspects of the competition. Each sub-team has a leader to whom the others report, and all the members of the Mars Rover team report to the two team leaders–Ethan Smith from Computer Engineering and Spencer Stowell from Mechanical Engineering.

Ethan Smith is on the software team, where he is working on the rover’s perception. In the competition, the rover will have to autonomously maneuver itself without hitting obstacles and detect specific objects such as a water bottle or hammer. So, Smith is trying to understand how much the rover can “see” and what problems it is having with perception. Others on the software team are working on updating all of the systems because the current software is going out of date.

Another student, Ben Duncan from Computer Engineering, has also been working on software. Duncan applied for the Mars Rover team because he was interested in the project and wanted to be on a team with committed members who he could count on. He shares that his experience on the Mars Rover team has taught him more about the Robot Operating System (ROS) and python programming. However, Duncan says that he values the soft skills he has learned more, such as learning to be a team player, working towards a common goal, and communicating effectively with others.

Both Duncan and Smith agree that the most challenging part of Capstone this year has been the keeping proper documentation of their work. Documenting as many changes as possible helps future Mars Rover teams see how previous teams programmed or built the rover, which is crucial when there needs to be changes made to past work. Capstone also meets early in the morning, which can be difficult to juggle with busy schedules.

Though the Capstone project has its challenges, spending so much time working with a team leads to tighter bonds. Ben Duncan expresses that “the most fun part was working on the rover itself and seeing it in action. It’s been a ton of fun to understand better how it works, what goes into it, and programming it to solve our challenge. In addition, getting to know my teammates and bonding with them through laughs is always a ton of fun.”

Ethan Smith urges anyone with interest in the Mars Rover team to look for volunteer opportunities next year. “It’s an amazing experience,” he adds. Volunteers will have more experience with the BYU rover if they are interested in applying in the future, and past volunteers are extremely helpful to have on the team.