Updated 2018-05-24  Rover Q13

2018-04-25 Equipment Q5.

2018-04-16 Rover Q12.

2018-03-09 Competition Q15.

2018-02-11 Competition Q14. Science Q23.


Competition Questions

[1.Q] Can teams ask questions? [1.A] Yes. All 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] For scheduling see rule 3.a.i. and between tasks you make any modifications you like. During a task 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 the judge's 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. Testing of your rover off-road on the state lands may only be conducted with permission of the URC Director or MDRS Director. (See link to map in Section 1.h. of the rules).  You can only drive on the designated roads which makes staying in the state lands and away from the competition sites difficult. You will however be more than welcome to do all the testing you like back in Hanksville.

[7.Q] Different regions pay different taxes which puts regions with higher taxes at a financial disadvantage, with respect to the $17,500 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 $17500 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] Rule 1.j.i. says that volunteer labor does not need to be included in the budget. If a company volunteers to machine components for us, or cuts custom PCBs we designed, do we only need to include the cost of the raw materials?  [8.A] We would consider this donated labor not volunteer labor.  See rule 1.j.iii. If the company gives you free access to their machines, or you purchase your own machining equipment, and you do the machining yourselves, then you only need include the value of the raw materials.

[9.Q] Rule 1.j.v. says that if a part is purchased commercially the "as-bought" price may be used. Does that mean that if we buy a component at a discount, we only need record the price we paid for it?  [9.A] If you buy something new or used, at a discount or not, you can use the price you bought it at, provided that it is not a special price just for your team.  I.e. if someone not on your team can buy it at the same price then it is a fair market price and you can use that price. Conversely if the seller is only offering it at that price to your team, then the price you are getting is below market price, and the difference is essentially a donation, so you need to report in your budget the price the seller would have sold it to someone else for.  

[10.Q] We are considering renting some equipment for the science cache task. Can we just use the rental cost in the budget? [10.A] It depends on whether the equipment will be fielded on the rover, or just used for the laboratory analysis. Cost limits only apply to the rover and communication equipment (see rule 1.j.i. and Science Q&A 14). There are no budget or mass limits on the laboratory analysis. On the other hand, equipment fielded on the rover should be valued at full cost, not just the rental cost but you may use the cost of a second hand one if you can find one for sale and document that cost.

[11.Q] Could you please provide us with the task details and scoring rules the day before the competition or earlier? [11.A] Unlike previous years we are going to try to get as many of these details out as far in advance as possible. We are currently discussing them and designing any hardware needed such as the equipment panel which is being built by Protocase and Honeybee. However there may still be some details such as exact placement of gates and markers in the delivery and autonomy tasks that are not decided on until the day before competition.

[12.Q] Is SAR expected to differ significantly from the previous CDR or is it just a rename? [12.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 rover 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 last year, but may have updated guidance based on judges' recommendations.

[13.Q] The depreciation rules are absent from the new rules. Are we right to understand that items originally bought new should have their original price used, no matter how old they are? [13.A] Any items procured prior to September 1 may be counted based on either their original as-bought cost, or the current cost for a new version of the same or equivalent item.

[14.Q] What is the difference between the science plan in the SAR (rule 1.i.iii) and the one submitted in May (rule 3.b.i)?  [14.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, since the SAR needs to include everything else about the rover and your team too. You also might not have all the planned equipment or tested everything, although obviously anything you can demonstrate in the SAR is a benefit and will contribute to whether or not your team is invited to compete in the field. However, by May we'll expect a much more detailed Science Plan going into 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.

[15.Q] We had some parts made by Protocase using the $2000 sponsorship, but have adapted our design and would like to have it remade to different specs. Can we still exclude the new parts from the budget if we don't use the old ones?  [15.A] Yes. You may order as many parts as you like from Protocase over $2000. The same as any other prototypes that your teams purchases/builds, but does not ultimately field, do not need to be included in the budget. The first $2,000 in material (based on the documented value from Protocase) that is fielded on your rover will be exempt from the budget limit.  You will still need to disclose and document all fielded materials in your financial report, including the $2000 worth from Protocase that is exempt from the budget limit.

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] 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.  Since it's only a coarse backup navigation, passive magnetometers will be allowed.

[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? [2.A] As in rule 1.c.i anything deployed by the rover should be collected before returning to the start gate. If deployed objects are not collected you will forfeit the points for returning the rover to the start gate on time. This is usually only a small number of points (although usually easy to earn), so you will have to weigh the increased potential for completing a task against the risk of not being able to collect the objects you deploy.

[3.Q] Would the rover be allowed to pull another across the starting gate as a sort of trailer behind the rover? The two vehicles would be "tethered" to each other, but not to any external sources. Also, would this apparatus be considered a "single connected platform" as stated in Section 1.c.? [3.A] The tether in rules 1.c. and 2.c. 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 coupling 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.  As in rule 1.d 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.b. 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 $17.5K cost limit? [5.A] The 70 kg total mass and $17.5K 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 $17.5K budget will be enforced as strict limits. If you rover weighs in 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 2018 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 probably 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 where 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 or rangefinder 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] Rule 2.b states "rover wheelbase width or length may not exceed 2 m". Do you mean the distance between the centers of the wheels, or the maximum horizontal length of the robot? What about non-wheel things protruding beyond wheels? If the distance between wheels changes, either by operator's command or due to weight, should the wheelbase be considered at most or least extended?  [10.A] This means the footprints of the wheels on the ground from left to right, and front to back. On a conventional car this would be the axle length and the length between axles. You may have items protrude but be warned paths on the retrieval and delivery task are not guaranteed to be wider than 2m (rule 3.c.ii). For dynamic suspension systems this should be the separation at weigh-in.

[11.Q] Regarding rule 2.g - are we right to understand that the kill switch may allow the computing unit, cameras, transmitters, sensors, etc. to keep running, as long as the rover can't move anything in any way?   [11.A] No. The point of the kill switch is to cut all power draw from the batteries in case of a battery fire, as well as to deal with hazards such as a rover about to drive off a cliff. If you hit the kill switch your task is over, so please for everyone's safety just have it be like pulling the plug.

[12.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?  [12.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.

[13.Q] Do we need to bring our own antenna pole/tripod to mount the radio or are there poles provided we can simply velcro-strap the radio on to [13.A] There are no poles provided. You need to bring your own pole/tripod.


Science Cache Task Questions

[1.Q] Rule 3.b.iii asks for a panorama with cardinal directions on the picture and some indication of scale. Scaling a panorama of an entire horizon is not really useful because in the stitching process of combining pictures, the ranges are often distorted so that the image can fit the entire horizon. [1.A] The intent is to provide context of the sample location with respect to the local geography and other features of interest. The wide-angle panorama is not required to be a 360 degree horizon image, and can be a single wide-angle shot or stitched as teams see fit.  The requested scale indication should be applicable to the sample region, and does not need to be perfectly precise, but merely provide an order-of-magnitude level of spatial awareness, since in the desert, without a known size reference, 100 meter features can easily appear to be close up shots of 10 meter features.

[2.Q] For the indication of scale in the panoramic photo, Is a ruler or prop of known dimensions placed by the rover in the field of view satisfactory for this requirement? Is the viewing angle of the camera sufficient?  [2.A] The camera viewing angle alone gives no information on distance or size of objects so is not sufficient. Yes, a ruler can be used as a scale. It doesn't matter what you use as scale, as long as you can give us the scale and it is contained within the Rover package. 

[3.Q] What resolution do you consider as high resolution in rule 3.b.iii? [3.A] This is up to you. Convince us that whatever resolution you pick provides meaningful scientific information on the location.

[4.Q] What is meant by stratigraphic profile? Is this an above the surface picture of layers such as those that can be seen in a hill or is it a below the surface picture of layers such as those that could be seen in a core sample?  [4.A] A stratigraphic profile is vertically layered deposits. There will be an exposed cliff side at the competition site for you to profile. No digging or drilling to obtain a profile will be required. Similar to the rovers on Mars, the size, position, aspect, location or any other information about the stratigraphic profile will not be provided prior to the competition.  We expect that part of your pre-competition science research will include learning about stratigraphic profiling and especially examples of what to expect at the competition area in Utah and also on Mars prior to aid in the science task.

[5.Q] In 3.b.v, what is considered sealed for the cache container? Does it have to be water tight or just covered? What is considered to be a "cache container"? [5.A] We expect the teams to do some research into methods for microbial sample collection. The cache for this competition is based on the current Mars sample return strategy as mentioned in the latest Planetary Science Decadal survey: Vision and Voyages (https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/docs/131171.pdf  boxes C.3 and C.4 and in the shorter summary version page 21). In this context we expect teams to do some research as to the requirements that will be needed to reach the "cache goal". For this competition the cache goal is to store a sample for later analysis, which means the teams need to decide and defend their cache choice in achieving the objectives.  We expect a microbial clean container, so yes, air and water tight.  We also expect the teams to have a way to keep their container free of contamination from the human microbes when handing the judges the container. As a HINT:  A urine sample container is sterile and will hold the appropriate amount of soil/ rock.

[6.Q] We are assuming that the "Martian" atmosphere during the competition is microbe-free and the sample needs to be protected only to avoid contamination once it gets back to the "habitat" where humans reside. Can we assume that in a real mission a clean room would be available and any tasks that could expose the sample to airborne microbes would be done there? [6.A] No, those assumptions are incorrect. The Cache container needs to be clean and the sample needs to be kept clean/ contamination free from and during collection into the cache container. We are concerned about the possible contamination of the cache from the rover and sample collection process, and the cache container itself as well as the human team members. We expect the rover to cache the sample (clean, air and water tight container, obviously with a lid) within the roving time. At the end of the roving time a team member will hand the judge a sealed container with the sample. The judge will then ensure the sample remains clean via a secondary containment until the later sample analysis task.

 [7.Q] Do we need to collect the sample without exposing it to the atmosphere at all, or can it be exposed to air once removed from the ground or can we scrape off the ground surface to expose an area to collect a sample from? [7.A]  Exposure to the atmosphere during collection is considered acceptable. Part of the task is to figure out what the cache is, by looking at the NASA Mars 2020 website for example. The most important parts are the transfer from collection to cache container, and providing a sealed cache to the judges. We don't want parts of the rover in with the sample or microbes from the team members in the cache.

[8.Q] Is the soil composition going to be such that we would be able to just scoop it up, or is it going to be compacted enough that we would need a drill? Will there be any indication of where to perform the soil tests? [8.A] There are many different types of soil and rock conditions at MDRS. There is no specific guidance on the specific sample types that teams should be prepared for (i.e. hard rock vs. soft soil). This is left as a design decision for each team. Judges will be providing general descriptions of the task site, but otherwise, no markers will be provided.

[9.Q] Are we allowed to carry a sample from one site and dump it later if we find a better sample at another site? Will teams be allowed to chip or drill pieces of the rock away? Is flipping over rocks, or removing a rock and then returning it to its original location, considered invasive? [9.A] Yes, teams may discard samples. Keep in mind that many teams will be investigating the same sample sites, so rovers should avoid causing major changes that will impact other competitors (including leaving excessively large holes, and causing significant disturbance to the soil). In general, physically manipulating a rock for closer inspection is not considered to be invasive as long as it is done with discretion, targeting specific samples. As a general rule of thumb, teams should design their systems to take only the amount of soil needed to perform a given test, and minimize visual disturbance. Deposition of chemicals or water onto the course is not permitted.

[10.Q] If the same tool is used to collect multiple samples, will teams have to account for contamination (e.g. if there was life teams wouldn't be able to say definitively that it came from Sample B since the tool also touched Sample A). [10.A] As with all scientific analysis, teams must seek to minimize possible sources of contamination, yet understand and disclose possible sources when they do exist.

[11.Q] How many samples do we need to return, or is one enough? [11.A] Teams will be judged on the quality of the science of the site and sample analysis and the ability to explain why they chose a sample, not on the number of samples. An in-depth description of one sample collected is better than a poor explanation of five samples collected.

[12.Q] For the additional onboard science capability of the team’s choice, is that just any instrument that can analyze the site? For example, would a spectrometer or microscope count for this or is URC looking for something more elaborate/a wet chemistry experiment? [12.A] Onboard equipment must at least contain soil humidity and subsurface temperature tests. Any additional instrument that produces data to enable useful scientific analysis is sufficient, including a spectrometer or a microscope.  The cost and complexity of the instruments are not as important as a thoughtful plan for the field work, and quality of analysis based on data returned.

[13.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. Are judges going to seed the sites with additional bacteria, so the population density is greater? [13.A] There are more options than a spectrometer and digital microscope: Traditional microbiology techniques are also considered biological assays and are often less expensive.  Instruments to identify biomolecules are just considered a “bonus” and could be in the lab portion rather than onboard the rover.  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. The science capability of choice on-board the rover is just that: the team’s choice, and does not need to be expensive. We will judge more on explanation of the capability and why the team chose it.

[14.Q] Is any equipment provided for the bench analysis, or will we have to provide everything we wish to use? Is there any restriction for number of instruments/weight? [14.A] The only equipment provided will be a digital scale to weigh the sample. No other science instruments are provided for the laboratory analysis. US mains power (110-125V, 60Hz) will be available to power anything you bring. You will need to provide everything else you need. There are no restrictions (mass or budget) on the equipment that may be used in laboratory analysis. The primary intent of this analysis should be the search for life and the detection of biomolecules within the sample. Points will be awarded not by the size and extensiveness of a team's laboratory, but rather based on how well teams are able to relate their analysis to the work performed with the rover.

[15.Q] What is the extent of the devices allowed at the base station? For example, say a team wanted to do seismic testing and imaging, which required a 'thumper' unit at the base station that vibrated the soil? [15.A] For operation in conjunction with the rover would be included in the 50kg weight limit so is probably not a good use of weight allocation. Also, the science task is geared towards biology and the search for life so the thumper is not recommended. For the post-traverse laboratory analysis, this will probably be conducted back in Hanksville, where the only limitations are:  No harmful chemicals or reagents without prior approval (rule 3.b.vii), and the feasibility in the time it takes to get everything set-up (base station) and rover in the limited set-up time. 

For the third onboard sensor, 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? [16.A] Yes, you may use a video feed to monitor a sensor. You must be able to see the results while the rover is exploring the site, not have to wait until the rover physically brings the samples and tests results back to the command, but using a video link for this is fine.

[17.Q] Can we use an electric hot plate for heating samples during the laboratory analysis? [17.A] Yes, you can use any reasonably safe electrical device you bring, There will be a US 110 volt power strip available for each team.

[18.Q] For the 2018 science analysis task (lab portion in rule 3.b.x) a life detection instrument or analysis of the teams choice is required. What is meant by life detection instrumentation or analysis? [18.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.).

[19.Q] Am I right to understand that we are not expected to attempt life detection on the rover? [19.A] Not for 2018, but you will be expected to attempt life detection in the Lab. See Science Q&A 18.

[20.Q] Rule 3.b.xi - the word "Mars" is absent in the new rules. Are we expected to present knowledge of astrobiology outside of the martian context (eg. potential life on Europa/Titan/Enceladus)? [20.A] Teams should know fundamentals to all life as we know it which is Earth life; basic biomolecules, amino acids, metabolites, nucleic acids, etc. This is basic biochemistry, independent of location. Fundamentals of life in Mars context will also be needed during the science briefing, but teams do not need to know particulars about Europa, Enceladus, Titan. This is still a Mars based challenge.

[21.Q] Is life detection in terms of the lab analysis defined as detecting concretely the presence of microorganisms, identifying the types of microorganisms, or detecting the bio-signatures/bio molecules indicative of life? [21.A] Life detection in terms of the lab analysis 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 assays chosen work and explain why they were chosen.

[22.Q] We are having difficulty in determining what would qualify a sample to be "contaminated". Would using the same soil probe to collect multiple samples from one site qualify as contamination? What if we did or did not clean it between collections? Would a chemical sealant like expandable foam, rubber cement, or epoxy be considered acceptable "lid", or would it be considered contamination? What about a cork or styrofoam bung (assuming it is air and water tight)? [22.A] These are details teams need to research. Teams will need to make their own decisions and be prepared to defend their choices to the judges. More details could be found by researching the MSL contamination issue, planetary protection in general and the Mars2020 rover cache plans. See also Science Q&A 5,6,7,10 above.

[23.Q] Regarding the use of hazardous chemicals in rule 3.b.vii 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? [23.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. 

Extreme Retrieval and Delivery Task Questions

[1.Q] We need the following information for estimation of power consumption/torque: The rule mentioned "vertical drops" and "steep slopes in excess of 45 degrees." Should we expect the "steep slopes in excess of 45 degrees" be an angle that is relatively close to 45 degrees? [1.A] The course will feature a range of 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. Such ambiguity is a fundamental tenet of exploration since in real life often you don't know enough information to make the "right" choice, and you need to make educated guesses.  That's part of the fun of real engineering!

[2.Q] When walking on the course before performing the task can we take notes, photos, measure slopes and record other data? [2.A] In accordance with Section 1.h of the rules, advanced scouting of the course is not permitted.

Equipment Servicing Task 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. 

[2.Q] Is there any limit on the lowest/highest 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] Is it necessary to use the screwdriver from the field for screwing or can we use a screwdriver integrated in the rover?  [4.A] You will need to pick up and use the screwdriver or wrench provided, just like a an astronaut would. Good luck, as this is considered a stretch-goal to push the boundaries of what is easy-for-humans but hard-for-robots!

[5.Q] Will the keyboard be mechanical or on-screen?  [5.A] It will be a standard mechanical keyboard.

Autonomous Traversal Task Questions

[1.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? [1.A] Typical GPS accuracy is 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 gate marker and travel to it.

[2.Q] Will there be any other obstacles on the course other than he tennis balls that are being used as markers? [2.Q] No, just the elevated tennis balls and natural terrain on the course. No other artificial visual markers will be used, nor will physical gates such as on the Extreme Retrieval and Delivery Task. 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. 

[3.Q] How densely populated with tennis ball markers will the path be?  [3.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.

[4.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?  [4.A] Yes, this will be allowed. It would be difficult for us to verify that you weren't using the base station computers, and the main goal is that there is no human intervention.

[5.Q] Is there a penalty for hitting a marker?  [5.A] No. Feel free to park on top of it.

[6.Q] Are there different color tennis balls?  [6.A] No. Just the generic yellow-ish ones.

[7.Q] Can you explain what is meant by "teleoperated scouting" and "autonomous operation" and when we can swap between them?  [7.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 levels 1 and 2 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 gate. 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 levels 3 and 4 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. 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).