Updated 2020-08-17 

2019-09-20 New Q&A for 2020 competition
2019-09-25 Rover Q10, Autonomy Q5,6
2019-10-04 Autonomy Q5 updated. Delivery Q2.
2019-10-07 Science Q12
2019-10-25 Autonomy Q5 updated. N.B. This is a change to the previous guidance given in Q5. Signs will now be 3 sided.
2019-11-12 Autonomy Q7
2019-12-06 Rover Q11

2020-02-18 Rover Q12, Q13

2020-08-17 Q&A held over for 2021 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, but many videos of past competitions are available online. These are a good source of information on previous tasks and 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] When will we know our schedule? Is there a set order of the tasks? [4.A] 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] Different regions pay different taxes which puts regions with higher taxes at a financial disadvantage, with respect to the $18,000 budget cap. [5.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.

[6.Q] If 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?  [6.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. 

Rover Questions

[1.Q] Can we make changes to the rover after the PDR/SAR or during the competition?  [1.A] For 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. During the field competition you will have to watch your weight and budget limits, (such as the replacement of faulty camera or GPS unit with a $1000 smartphone). 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. 

[2.Q] 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? [2.A] The 70 kg total mass and $18K are strict limits. In a real space program you will typically be given strict weight, size, and budget limits, and short of exceptional circumstances will be expected to stick to it. 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.  

[3.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. [3.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. 

[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. Judges will then monitor conversations that occur near the rover. Spectators are not allowed to provide feedback to the operators and should take care not to do so.

[5.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? [5.A] Not for the 2020 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. 

[6.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? [6.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. 

[7.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?  [7.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. 

[8.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?  [8.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.

[9.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.  [9.A] See Rover Q8 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.

[10.Q] For fitting the rover into the "transport crate", does any articulation/bending need to be done autonomously? Can we stand the rover up on it's back legs and use some temporary ties to hold it in that position while weighing?  [10.A] No, you do not need to actuate joints for the weigh-in. You may use locking pins, quick-releases etc, but it must be a joint, telescoping section, etc, and not the removal of an item. You may put the rover in any orientation you like, but no temporary ties such as duct tape, cable/zip ties may be used to hold the rover in place. You may build a stand to support it, and it's weight will not be included in the weight of the rover, but it must fit inside the 1.2m box and please try to make it as lightweight as possible.

[11.Q] If we have a deployable such as a radio relay or mini-rover with it's own power supply does it also need a emergency kill switch?  [11.A] Any mobile deployables such as a mini-rover will require an emergency stop button just like the main rover. Any non-mobile deployables using alkaline or lead-acid batteries do not require any further safety measures although a fuse is recommended. Any non-mobile deployables with batteries using any other chemistry will require either a fuse or a kill switch.

[12.Q] For the weigh-in in the transport crate in rule 2.a.ii does it have to fit in a rectangular prism with a 1.2m square base or can it be skewed or twisted?   [12.A] It must be a 2.m square based rectangular prism. For 2020 the height is unrestricted. It may not be skewed, like a parallelepiped or twisted. We may have actual fold up sides to the weighing platforms this year, and they must be able to close to avoid the 40% penalty.

[13.Q] If we have a modular or deployable item, does it still need to fit in the 1.2m square "transport crate"? Can we store it temporarily with magnets, velcro or cleats?  [13.A] i) Deployable items that are intended to be dropped somewhere in the field by the rover, such as radio repeaters, wifi cameras, mini-rovers, etc, must have a storage location on the rover where you would keep it for transport out into the field, and it must be included in the storage crate during weigh-in. Being in the grasp of the arm is acceptable, as are magnets, cleats, velcro. You may also articulate a housing for the deployable so it can expand beyond the stowage configuration. ii) If you do not intend to deploy the item in the field, but merely want to find a way to expand the rover beyond the stowage size, it needs to comply with rule 2.a.ii and have some mechanism to fold it in and out. Modular items that may not be used in all mission such as drills, science instruments, removable wheels, the arm, etc, do not count as deployable.

Science Mission Questions

[1.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.iv)?  [9.A] These are two different versions of your science plan you'll need to submit. For the SAR 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 Mission.  

[2.Q] What is meant by life detection instrumentation or analysis? [2.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.). 


[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.


[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.v 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.  Specifically a hazardous chemical plan should include:  

·       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] Designated sites will be pointed out by the judges during the on-site briefing  and should be visible from the start gate. There will be at least 3 but not more than 6 sites, which will be scored equally.

[9.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? [9.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. There will be no mixed samples, so if you detect extant life you don't need to search the same sample for extinct life.

[10.Q] What resolution of life detection is required, given that creating truly sterile condition on Earth is almost impossible? [10.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.

[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.

[12.Q] Will the soil be loose, or will we have to break into compacted and hardened soil to collect a sample? [12.A] The soil samples will be initially loose soil that is poured into the containers and then compacted by body weight.

Extreme Retrieval and Delivery Mission Questions

[1.Q] 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, from flat to steep slopes with loose soil, and even vertical faces. Teams will need to make their own decisions on compromises between capability in this and other tasks, weight, durability, complexity, cost, etc.

[2.Q] Is there a minimum diameter to the rope? What material will it be? Will it have a knot or something at the end, or just a loose end? [2.A] The rope will be between 5 and 15 mm in diameter. Nothing else will be specified that isn't in rule 3.c.iv, and you should be able to deal with any reasonable rope we provide.

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, but online videos show past tasks. 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] How complex a joystick do we need to be able to operate?  [3.A] It will be a 4-position spring-return joystick graspable by a human hand.


Autonomous Traversal Mission Questions

[1.Q] Is there a penalty for hitting a post/gate?  [1.A] There is no penalty for hitting a post so feel free to drive right up to it. For the gates there is also no penalty but the rover needs to pass completely through the gate to score.

[2.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?  [2.A] Yes, this is allowed, but there may be no human assistance while autonomously driving. 

[3.Q] While at a gate before starting the next leg, are teams allowed to enter multiple GPS waypoints (such as based on satellite images) or just the provided GPS point? [3.A] While at a gate, teams are allowed to enter as many additional GPS points as desired and conduct any other programming prior to entering autonomous mode.

[4.Q] Are there any specifications on the LED array to make it visible in bright daylight? [4.A] No, teams should verify this for themselves. Our tests used an 8x8 NeoPixel matrix and we’d suggest use of a sunshade to block direct sunlight, but you may use any array you chose to purchase or build. An 80 mm diameter, or 80 mm x 80 mm square are recommended minimum dimensions.

[5.Q] Will the AR symbols be printed on a cube or will only one side of the post have the AR symbol on it? Is it a single symbol or multiple symbols for each leg? Is there a specific direction we need to pass through a gate in?  [5.A] Each post will have one distinct glyph as shown below. The signs will be 3 sided (triangular prisms) with the same AR glyph on each side. The AR tags will occupy the full 20cm x 20cm size of each side of the sign. The size/shape of the posts will not be specified in advance, and your system should be able to deal with any posts we put the signs on. For legs with gates, the direction you should travel through is shown in the image below.

[6.Q] Is there a time or distance limit for when we need to stop and turn on the green light after passing through a gate?  [6.A] There is no explicit time or distance limit. The rover should be obviously over an imaginary line between the posts, and not so far away that it seems implausible it can be signalling for the last gate.

[7.Q] The link to the AR tags is for ROS with ALVAR tags. Do we need to use this system or can we use something else?  [7.A] The link was just to point teams to where the tags were defined although they are now given in Q5 above. We picked ALVAR tags since it was used by the European Rover Challenge this past year to save teams from re-inventing their system if they already had it working. You don't need to use either ROS or ALVAR, although their pre-written routines may simplify things for teams. If you don't want to use ROS you can use the ALVAR SDK (just google it) to get the C++ code and skip the ROS wrappers. If you don't want to use the ALVAR SDK you should be able to program the tags into any Augmented Reality software you choose or even write yourself, since it is a frequent task to have AR software recognize photos or actual objects. The software is just running a correlation function between the video feed and the test image or images, so most AR packages have a way for you to specify the test images. ALVAR, ARUCO tags, etc are just test images with high contrast and a high degree of distinguishability between each other.