Updated 2019-04-28  Science Q11

2019-04-15 Autonomy Q7

2019-02-22 Science Q3 expanded.

2019-02-21 Science Q6 expanded again. Science Q10. Rover Q13. Competition Q11.

2018-12-10 Science Q3 expanded. Competition Q10.

2018-11-07 Equipment Q4 modified. Rover Q11 expanded. Science Q7,8,9 expanded.

2018-10-10 Rover Q12

2018-09-27 Science Q6 expanded again.

2018-09-26 Science Q6 clarified. Added Science Q7,8,9

2018-09-24 Science Q6 expanded. Added Equipment Q5.

2018-09-20 Rover Q11 expanded.

2018-09-19 Science Q6

2018-09-18 Rover Q2 expanded. Added Rover Q11, Equipment Q4.

2018-09-17 New Q&A for 2019 competition


Competition Questions

[1.Q] Can teams ask questions? [1.A] Yes. Questions and answers are added to the Q&A. See the contact page if you have any questions. 

[2.Q] Are there videos of rovers completing the tasks? [2.A] The judges do not plan on making videos of the updated tasks or the infrastructure. However, many videos of past competitions are available online, including the URC website and Facebook page. These are a good source of information on how previous teams have designed, built, and operated their rovers.

[3.Q] Will there be any help with visa procedures for international teams? [3.A] There is no direct assistance with the visa process, although URC will provide a letter of support upon request. Early application is advised for as many team members as possible. However, letters of support will not be issued until after the System Acceptance Review results are announced.

[4.Q] How much time is there between events to modify our rover in? Can we modify a rover during a task? When will we know our schedule? Is there a set order of the tasks? [4.A] See rule 3.a.iv, and between tasks you make any modifications you like. During a mission you may have an intervention at a 20% penalty, where the aim is to allow you to fix a broken rover if you need to, not to swap out modular components. You will be given your exact schedule prior to the first day of the field competition. The order of tasks will be different for each team and is the luck of the draw.

[5.Q] During competition will teams have any ability to police judges and spectators so they don't interfere with the task such as by obscuring the rovers vision of the markers in the autonomous traversal task? Can we expect a clear 360 degree field of view? [5.A] No. It is the judges' job to make sure the competition is fair and that spectators are not interfering with the competition either against, or more commonly to unfairly aid the team (such as pointing out the location of objects). The usual rule is that judges and spectators need to do their best to stay behind the rover at all times, or at least not in the forward 180 degree field of view. If you have concerns during the competition please bring it up with judges at each task site. You should expect 1-2 judges to be following the rover for scoring purposes. You are unlikely to have any spectators other than your own team members, and if there are others it should be by your permission. It is your prerogative to request no one other than the judges follow the rover, although most teams send at least 1-2 people to act as runners should the need arise.

[6.Q] Can we set up a 12'x12' canopy for our team between events?  [6.A] Yes, you may set up a tent as you please but be warned that we switched from tents to trailers due to problems with high winds at MDRS.  If you wish to work on your rover, we do not allow testing at the field sites during the competition due to potential radio interference. You will however be more than welcome to do all the testing you like back in Hanksville or at other sites where off-road vehicles are allowed such as Swing Arm City (http://capitolreef.org/trails/swing-arm-city/).

[7.Q] Different regions pay different taxes which puts regions with higher taxes at a financial disadvantage, with respect to the $18,000 budget cap. [7.A] These are just some of many region-specific pricing factors such as raw materials, labor costs, and exchange rates. Few teams get close to fielding a $18,000 rover and the correlation between budget and score is extremely weak with a huge standard deviation. We will review the budget rules if in the future they do appear to become an important factor in the success of teams at URC.

[8.Q] Is SAR expected to differ significantly from the previous years’ CDR (prior to 2018) or is it just a rename? [8.A] The intention of the rename is to better reflect where in the design life cycle we expect rovers to be. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Design_review_(U.S._government) for an overview. A CDR typically comes before full-scale fabrication, and we expect rovers to be further along than that. In other words we expect you to have a mostly working system that can demonstrate most of the tasks for the review. The requirements of a written report and video demonstration will not otherwise be significantly different from previous years.

[9.Q] What is the difference between the science plan in the SAR (rule 1.a.iii) and the one submitted in May (rule 3.b.iii)?  [9.A] These are two different versions of your science plan you'll need to submit. For the SAR in March it can be more preliminary, and you won't have much room in the report (1 page) or much time in the video to describe everything. In May we'll expect much more detail (~5 pages) and for you to have everything up and running, and explain the background science too. This version of the science plan will count towards your score in the Science Task in the field competition.

[10.Q] We purchased an item that is on sale at a discount to only students from our country. Can we use that price in our budget, or do we need to use the price that would be available to all teams?  [10.A] This is another region-specific pricing factor. You may use the student price even if only available to students from your country, provided that it is available at that price to any student from your country, not just your university.

[11.Q] Can we make changes to the rover after the PDR/SAR?  [11.A] Yes, this is allowed for URC. For a an actual mission you would be expected to freeze the design after the SAR. However for URC you may make changes to your rover at any point, although during the field competition you will have to watch your weight and budget limits if adding or modifying components. See also Competition Q4.

Rover Questions

[1.Q] Is a magnetometer allowed for navigation? We designed our navigation system using a magnetometer, then realized the magnetic field on Mars is not sufficient to use on an actual Mars Rover. [1.A] Yes, even though they are not analogous to operations on Mars, it would be difficult for us to verify that teams aren't using a digital compass or magnetometer. 

[2.Q] We would like to deploy a communications module from the rover. We were wondering whether we would have to retrieve the module with the rover before the end of a task, or if we could just leave it there? Can we also drop other tools or items the rover carries with it?  [2.A] Yes, you may leave it there (although teams are obviously expected to collect it immediately after competing). Rovers are not required to return the start gate during the on-course time.   

[3.Q] Would the rover be allowed to pull another across the starting gate as a sort of trailer behind the rover? Would this be considered a "single connected platform" as stated in Section 2.a.i? [3.A] The tether in rule 2.a.i refers to power and control between the deployed system(s) and the command station.  There is no restriction on tethers for power/control between subsystems deployed by the rover.  A system that has physical connection via a tow-rope will be permitted as a single connected platform.

[4.Q] Can we include a microphone on the rover? Listening to rover's sounds, not just relying on sensor data, during tasks is great help for operator to determine if everything is working correctly. [4.A] Yes, microphones are permitted on board the rover.  However, teams will need to notify the judges prior to each task in which microphones are being used.  Spectating team members are not allowed to provide feedback to the operators and should take care not to do so. Judges will then monitor conversations that occur near the rover by both judges and spectators to ensure that no unintended information is provided to the team in the control station.

[5.Q] Regarding rule 2.a.iii what are the penalties for exceeding the 70 kg total limit or are there only penalties for exceeding the 50 kg single configuration limit? Are there penalties for exceeding the $18K cost limit? [5.A] The 70 kg total mass and $18K are strict limits. In a real space program you will typically be given a strict weight limit and probably size and budget limits too, and short of exceptional circumstances will be expected to stick to it. To be most realistic and fairest to all teams the 70 kg weight and $18K budget will be enforced as strict limits. If you rover is over 70 kg you will have to discard parts, drill holes, or whatever it takes until your rover is under the limit. 

[6.Q] Is it permissible to utilize a satellite internet provider, such as Exede or HughesNet, in order to achieve a data connection with the robot? [6.A] Not for the 2019 competition, but will consider changing this in future if there is enough interest. While we do grant GPS, we currently consider use of a satellite relay to be not quite in the spirit of the competition. However, there are plenty of ways to set up a local transponder in the field which we strongly encourage. 

[7.Q] We have amateur radio operator licenses and would like to use 2.4GHz band with high power, but high power is only allowed in the range 2.39-2.45 GHz (channels 1-6). Would we be permitted to only use channels 1-6? [7.A] During competition you will likely be randomly assigned 2.4GHz channels 1-3, 5-7, or 9-11 based on whichever control station is available when you arrive. You would be OK using licensed high power on channels 1-3 or 5-6 but would have to drop back to unlicensed power limits on channels 7 and 9-11. We will not guarantee channels ahead because it would make scheduling a nightmare. The URC controls on the 2.4 GHz band are very rigid to ensure that one of the most frequently used bands is well regulated, interference free, and predictable for all teams. If you want to use licensed high power operation you should consider using the amateur bands outside of the URC controlled 2.4GHz wifi and 900MHz RC bands. There are plenty to choose from if you have a license. 

[8.Q] We have a 2.4GHz transceiver we'd like to use that is frequency hopping and can be confined to bandwidth 28MHz centered on what would be channels 1.5, 7, and 12.5. Is this in violation of the rules? If not, do you know of any 2.4GHz or 900MHz frequency hopping transmitters that are compliant?  [8.A] The rules are very rigid in the 2.4GHz band to make it predictable and interference free for all teams. Since we cannot guarantee teams operating in neighboring channels won't experience interference or offer similar flexibility to all teams we must disallow this transceiver. We do not provide guidance or recommendations on specific products since sourcing parts is a critical aspect of the design and build process. We strongly encourage experimentation and customization of radio equipment, but the 2.4GHz wifi and 900 MHz RC channels are not the best bands to do that on. We suggest you consider the 5GHz band, which is much less popular, has many more bands, is not regulated at URC, and extreme broadband spread-spectrum is standard on many off-the-shelf transmitters. You can also get an amateur radio operator license which will open up many more bands and you can build any kind of modulation, spectrum spread, interference tolerant system you can dream up. 

[9.Q] Are there any limitations on using lasers?  [9.A] We have no rules on the use of lasers. As with everything else you should comply with normal health and safety rules and guidelines. A low power laser pointer/rangefinder/spectrometer is likely reasonably safe but for an extra step you may want to add a large warning label so people know it is there, and automatically shut it off if pointed above the horizontal. With any potential hazards, think it through, consult an expert, and take appropriate caution. You are a lot more likely to hurt one of your own team during testing.

[10.Q] We are not sure if the specific frequencies and power levels we are considering in the 5 GHz band are allowed. Where can we find the FCC regulations for specific frequency bands?  [10.A] While URC imposes unique requirements on the use of specific radio frequency bands for communication in the 900 MHz and 2.4GHz bands, teams must also ensure they are complying with all applicable regulations of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  In particular (but not exclusively), teams should pay attention to "Part 15" regulations: Code of Federal Regulations Title 47: Telecommunication, Chapter 1, Subchapter A, Part 15: Radio Frequency Devices. Subpart C: Intentional Radiators, provides details regarding specific frequency bands and their applicable regulations. This is particularly important for teams considering using the 5 GHz band, because while 5+ GHz is not specifically regulated by URC, the FCC regulations here can be confusing.  Do not assume that just because you can buy equipment, you can legally operate the equipment.  Verify the specific frequencies and power levels you will use in the FCC Part 15 regulations.  Note that some frequencies in the 5 GHz range are covered by more than one section of the regulations.

[11.Q] Are we correct that there is no height limit to the rover? Does the entire rover have to fit within a 1.2m x 1.2m column or only the parts touching the ground, including wheels, antenna, arm, etc? Can the rover be separated into parts for weigh-in? Can it be on its side or back or does it have to rest on its wheels?   [11.A]  There is no height limit for 2019, and yes it must entirely fit within a 1.2m x 1.2m infinitely tall column. The rover may be in pieces for the weigh-in and in any orientation provided that it fits within the area and can rest stably in that configuration without needing someone to support it. You may use a stand or box to hold all of the pieces, and the weight of the stand/box will be excluded from the 50kg and 70kg rover weight limits.

[12.Q] We would like to have batteries that can be exchanged out between events (to have some recharging while the rover is running an event and then in between events switch out the old battery for a recharged battery). Would these extra batteries be counted as modules or spare parts with regard to the weight limits?  [12.A]  Extra batteries intended for use would count as a module. They would only count as spares if not intended for use except to replace a truly dead battery such as one that can no longer be recharged. All batteries that are intended for use will count towards the 70kg total limit, but only batteries on the rover during weighing will count towards the 50kg mission limit.

[13.Q] Can you tell us what power levels are acceptable without a ham radio license? We don't think we'll be able to get one before the competition and want to check if our radio will be legal.  [13.A]  See Rover Q10 above where you can find the regulations. Many websites and organizations such as ARRL also have this information in more readable formats. As part of the competition and educational experience we believe it is important for teams to find out where to find this information themselves. For anyone with a background in electronics or physics, a ham radio license is very easy to obtain in just a few weeks. The US has agreements with many countries to allow foreign amateur licensees to operate in the US, and foreign nationals may also obtain a US license. We strongly encourage teams to learn more about radio systems and obtain a license to operate them.

Science Mission Questions

[1.Q] What is meant by life detection instrumentation or analysis? [1.A]. Life detection in this case means searching for evidence of life i.e. bio-molecules. Instruments or analysis does not need to be expensive or sophisticated but does need to search for biological components (i.e. life.).


[2.Q] Is life detection defined as detecting concretely the presence of microorganisms, identifying the types of microorganisms, or detecting the bio-signatures/bio-molecules indicative of life? [2.A] Life detection could be any or all listed. If a biomolecule is detected, since it is by definition biological, that would also be concrete evidence of life. You don't need to identify the organisms, but you do need to know how the instruments/assays chosen work and explain why they were chosen.


[3.Q] For the onboard sensors, does it need to be completely onboard or can we transmit the output to the command station such as via a video feed for interpretation by a human? Can we determine the status of a test in person by viewing it after the roving time? Can we use the command station computers to analyze images from the rover? [3.A] Yes, you may use a video feed to monitor a sensor. All experiments should be done onboard the rover, during roving time, so you should use that video feed or another method to determine the result and relay it back to the command station. Data and images may be interpreted, during roving time, by people or computers at the base station. See also Autonomy Q5 below.


[4.Q] Detailed spectral analysis is an option that increases the budget of the rover to a level that may not be feasible. Otherwise our only option is to purchase an inexpensive digital microscope and try to image the bacteria with that. However, to find naturally occurring cyanobacteria with this method would be nearly impossible. [4.A] There are more options than a spectrometer and digital microscope: Regarding the cost of various tools and sensors, this is one of many trade-offs that teams are required to make as part of their design process. A science instrument could be designed and built for around one hundred U.S. dollars up to a few thousand. The science capability of choice on-board the rover is just that: the team’s choice, and does not need to be expensive.


[5.Q] Regarding the use of hazardous chemicals in rule 3.b.iv are there any more specific guidelines for this plan we need to submit? Should this be included as part of our SAR package? If not, is there a specific due date for this plan? In particular would chemical X be allowed? [5.A] This is not expected as part of the SAR. There is no specific date, but we suggest you determine which chemicals you would like to use as soon as possible so you have time prior to the competition to choose new chemicals if some are not approved.  Anything with a NFPA hazard diamond rating of 4 is definitely not allowed at MDRS (e.g. hydrofluoric acid, potassium dichromate, chlorine dioxide). Hanksville does not have the resources to deal with any chemical that hazardous if anything goes wrong. A hazard diamond rating of 2 is probably fine, and 3 on a case-by-case basis, depending on what is required to mitigate a spill or treat an exposed victim, but teams need a plan to deal with any 3s. More specific guidelines on what is required for a hazardous chemical plan is given below.  Usage: Your hazardous chemical plan should start with a list of every chemical a team is planning to use, why, and how. This is the scientific justification and the judges may suggest teams find less hazardous assays which can be performed instead. Transport: How will you procure chemicals that cannot be transported on an airplane? How will you transport and store it in the U.S.? What is your disposal plan after URC? Safety and Accident Plan: For each chemical explain the risks and effects of exposure and how those can be effectively treated. This doesn't just mean send us a copy of the MSDS. Demonstrate you understand the hazards and are equipped to deal with an accident.

[6.Q] If we were interested in doing Raman, can we abrade the rock surface first or would this affect teams that come after us too much? Can we alter the rocks in any other way? Do we need to pick them up? Can we expose the rocks to any chemicals? [6.A] No techniques that significantly alter the rocks can be used. Raman is fine, but RAT, or drilling into a rock, or anything else that alters the rock prior to that is NOT allowed. You may brush off the surface to remove dust, but is likely not necessary. You should not need to pick up a rock, but you may, although we suggest you investigate it in-situ without putting chemicals on them, which would violate the no-spill policy. You may drill or pick up soil for onboard analysis, but should retain it onboard and not dump it back on the ground.

[7.Q] Do we need to be capable or testing surfaces of large rocks, a collection of small stones, a soil sample, or all three? Will each be available at each site? [7.A] No mixed samples and no pebbles: Just hand specimen size rocks or soil. Each site will have either soil or a rock/rocks of interest, not both.

[8.Q] Are we expected to look only at the designated sites or should we also choose other potential sites? How will we know where they are? Do we need to visit all designated sites? [8.A] No need to search for optimal sites for 2019, just investigate the designated sites which should be visible from the start gate and will be pointed out by the judges during the on-site briefing. There will be at least 3 but not more than 6 sites, which will be scored equally.

[9.Q] What resolution of life detection is required, given that creating truly sterile condition on Earth is almost impossible? [9.A] This is up to the team to determine and justify, based on knowledge of life on Earth, potential on Mars, and capabilities or limitations of life-detection instrument design. There will be at least one lifeless sample amongst the sites of interest. Teams just need to decide between i) No life present, ii) Extant life present, iii) Extinct life present.

[10.Q] Will the soil/rocks be natural or will some non-original material be added? How big will the rock and soil samples be? Will any samples contain both extinct and extant life? [10.A] The rock and soil samples will be from the site but will be altered to increase the bio-load or remove it. Rocks will be hand-specimen sized (something an astronaut could easily pick up in the field), and soil samples will be on the order of a gallon. The will be no mixed samples, so if you detect extant life you don't need to search the same sample for extinct life.

[11.Q] Are we allowed to retrieve items from the rover such as an SD card with the data? Does the presentation preparation time start immediately after the roving time? Do we need to remove the rover from the field site and vacate the command station for the next team at the same time whilst also preparing data? [11.A] Yes, as soon as the roving time is over you may retrieve any data storage devices from the rover, and yes presentation preparation time starts immediately, and you may examine collected data, but all experiments should be onboard the rover. The preparation and presentation will happen in the command station so you do not need to vacate it until after the presentation and discussion with judges, but you do need to remove your rover from the field during this time.

Extreme Retrieval and Delivery Mission Questions

[1.Q] We need the following information for estimation of power consumption/torque: How large a drop and how steep a slope can we expect? [1.A] We suggest you find some videos online of previous competitions. The course will feature a range of natural terrain at increasing levels of difficulty. Easy terrain may include small isolated drops and shallow slopes. Extremely difficult terrain may include slopes even steeper than 60 degrees with loose soil, and even vertical faces. Exact specifications are purposefully not given, so teams will need to make their own decisions on compromises between capability in this and other tasks, weight, durability, complexity, cost, etc.

Equipment Servicing Mission Questions

[1.Q] Are there more details on the equipment that needs servicing?  [1.A] Specific details are intentionally not given to encourage flexibility in design. Our basic design criterion is that all tasks should be reasonably performed by an astronaut using a single gloved hand. Tasks will range from easy to ones that push the boundaries of what is easy-for-humans but hard-for-robots!

[2.Q] Is there any limit on the highest/lowest placement of equipment during the servicing task?  [2.A] 1.5m and the ground. Don't expect to have to do anything from above 1.5m looking down, but you might need to reach up to something.

[3.Q] Can we assume that the electronic board which needs to be plugged in the servicing task will not suffer damage from merely gripping it?  [3.A] Yes. The intent of this sub-task is to test depth perception and precision movement, but thanks for the suggestion ;- ) Perhaps next year we'll intentionally add something that you can crush if you grip it too hard.

[4.Q] When will we know if we need a hex or a phillips screwdriver?  [4.A] During the walkthrough given by a judge immediately before competing, or when you drive up to the box during the mission. You need to be prepared for both or be able to use the screwdrivers provided. 

[5.Q] How complex a joystick do we need to be able to operate?  [5.A] It will be a 4-position spring-return joystick graspable by a human hand.

Autonomous Traversal Mission Questions

[1.Q] Can you explain what is meant by "teleoperated scouting" and "autonomous operation" and when we can swap between them?  [1.A] Teleoperation means manually driving the rover using video from the cameras. Scouting means exploring the area. In teleoperation mode you can use the controls or reprogram the rover as you choose. In autonomous mode you should be sitting back just watching the video feed and not touching any of the controls or sending any commands to the rover. In initial stages you may manually drive the rover to the GPS coordinates and find the tennis ball marker noting any obstacles, and record a set of waypoints for the rover to autonomously follow once you return to the start marker. If the rover has difficulties in the autonomous traverse you may take over manual control and scout out a new route, but to receive full credit must return to the start marker for that leg before restarting an autonomous attempt. In later stages you may not teleoperate: The rover must pick its own path to the GPS coordinates and then conduct its own search for the marker without any input from a person. (See also Autonomy Q&A 7). If the rover gets stuck, it needs to decide on its own to backtrack and try another path. If truly stuck (e.g. flipped over or beached on a rock) you may physically rescue it at the cost of an intervention (20% penalty). 

[2.Q] How accurate will the GPS coordinates be? With an autonomous system will the GPS coordinates be enough for the rover to locate the start and finish markers, or will we need some sort of image recognition? [2.A] Typical GPS accuracy has a standard deviation of about 5m and 95% confidence level of about 10m. In the open desert we usually do better, so for the first, easiest marker, (with luck) GPS may suffice. After that the marker will intentionally be placed far enough from the GPS coordinate that your autonomous system will need some way to identify the marker and travel to it.

[3.Q] Are there different color tennis balls? Will there be any other obstacles on the course other than he tennis balls that are being used as markers? [3.Q] No. Just the generic yellow-ish ones, and natural terrain on the course. You may encounter bushes, boulders, and other natural terrain that are difficult or impossible to drive over. No other artificial visual markers or obstacles will be used. However, there may be judges and spectators in close proximity to the rover, and the control station and cars parked by the side of the road may be visible from the course. Please do not wear bright yellow to this mission site.

[4.Q] How densely populated with tennis ball markers will the path be? Is there a penalty for hitting a marker?  [4.A] The path will not be dense at all. You will just be given the GPS coordinates of the markers at the start and end of each leg. Expect them to be far enough apart your rover will not be guaranteed to be able see the next tennis ball from the previous one (at least using a standard video camera). You will need to drive to approximately the correct location and then find the tennis ball. The route between them will be up to you or your rover depending on how you chose to solve the task. There is no penalty for hitting them, so feel free to park on top of them.

[5.Q] Is communication from a computer in the base station to the rover permissible as long as there is no human intervention? For example, could the base station computer handle some of the calculations required for autonomy?  [5.A] Yes, this is allowed, but there may be no human assistance while under autonomy.

[6.Q] Can we implement an auditory signal instead of a visual one?  [6.A] No. You may include an auditory signal as well as a visual one, but it must at least have a visual signal. This can be with lights or a moving part, but needs to be clear to any observers. 

[7.Q] While at a marker, before starting a leg where teleoperation is not allowed, are teams allowed to enter multiple GPS waypoints (such as based on satellite images) or just the provided GPS point? The Q&A says the "rover must pick its own path", but rule 3.e.viii says "programming of the next leg is allowed".  [7.A] While at a marker, teams are allowed to enter as many additional GPS points and conduct any other programming prior to entering autonomous mode. For non-teleoperated legs, the rover may not leave the marker until in autonomous mode, and must stay in autonomous mode until reaching the next marker or returning autonomously to the current one.