By Jasmine Sola
Scorpio, a robot created by a team of UW-Madison students, is named for the rear arm that rises above its wheels and body, resembling a scorpion tail poised to strike. It also shares its name with a well-known constellation, which is fitting, as it’s intended to function as a planetary rover in space.
The Wisconsin Robotics Team designed Scorpio so that it can be driven from more than 1,000 miles away using a 4G cell phone connection that allows the robot to connect to the Internet. And any good rover must be able to pick up matter on a foreign planet, says team treasurer and embedded team leader Stephen Eick, so the team used a 3D printer and laser cutter in the College of Engineering student shop to create a robotic claw for Scorpio.
In June 2014, the team sent Scorpio to Houston for the ASC-AL Exploration Robo-Ops Competition, organized by the National Institute of Aerospace and sponsored by NASA. UW-Madison was one of eight schools selected to compete, and the 2014 appearance was the Wisconsin Robotics team’s first time participating.
The team took fourth place overall. “Everyone is very proud of what the team managed to accomplish,” says Eick. “Designing, fabricating and constructing a robot capable of sample acquisition and tele-operation in two semesters was no simple task, even for more experienced members. As a ‘rookie’ team at Robo-Ops, seeing Scorpio move was a massive victory for us.”
Teams controlled the robots remotely from their home campuses—and robots in the competition executed certain tasks, such as picking up rocks at the NASA Johnson Space Center’s Rock Yard. They were scored based on their performance of these tasks, as well as on following requirements and time limits.
Moving forward, says Eick, the team will forego Robo-Ops and focus on showcasing its expertise in other areas—for example, by developing an autonomous, Kinect-based robot, a stand-alone robotic arm, and more. “We’ll have these systems ready for Engineering Expo in mid-April,” he says.