URC2023 Q&A

Note that these are the rules for URC2023, and do not apply to any other year.

Updated 2023-05-24 

2022-09-12 New Q&A for URC2023

2022-10-06 Added Science Q9-Q13, Extreme Delivery Q2-Q3, Autonomous Navigation Q5-Q8

2022-10-28 Science Q14, Rover Q10, Q11

2022-11-11 Science Q11 updated with link to chemical approval process

2023-04-07 Science Q12 updated, and Q15 added, regarding the sample cache

2023-04-18 Autonomy Q6 expanded

2023-05-08 Competition Q7

2023-05-24 Autonomy Q5 updated. Autonomy Q9-Q11

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. Letters of support will be issued on request after a team is registered.

[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 $22,000 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 $22,000 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. 

[7.Q] Is a COVID vaccine and up to date booster still required in light of the WHO’s decision to remove COVID-19’s World Health Emergency Designation, and the United States’ removal of vaccine requirements for foreign travelers on May 11?  [7.A] Yes, a vaccine and up to date booster are still required as outlined in https://urc.marssociety.org/home/covid-19.

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 a 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 $22K cost limit? [2.A] The 70 kg total mass and $22K 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 the rover. Judges monitor conversations and actions that occur near the rover. Spectators are not allowed to provide commentary or other feedback to the operators and should take care not to do so, even if there is not a microphone onboard.

[5.Q] Is it permissible to utilize a satellite internet provider, such as Exede, HughesNet, or Starlink in order to achieve a data connection with the robot? [5.A] Not for the 2023 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] Can we use a drone as a communications relay and/or camera platform in missions other than the Autonomous Navigation Mission, to assist the rover?  [10.A] Not for 2023, although we would like to allow this in future. There would be no benefit in the Science and Equipment Servicing missions, but it could be a great help in the Delivery mission. If we get enough interest from teams in coordinating use of drones with rovers, we will consider it for 2024. 

[11.Q] Can we use publicly available LIDAR datasets of the terrain of the Mars Society’s Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) to help inform our algorithms?  [11.A] Yes. You may use any LIDAR data, photographs, maps, that you can find. We'll post a link to at least one LIDAR dataset on the resources page. 

Science Mission Questions

[1.Q] What is the difference between the science plan in the SAR (rule 2.b.iii) and the one submitted in May (rule 1.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 assay? [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 relay the information 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 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] 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? [5.A] No mixed samples and no pebbles or rocks: Just regolith/soil samples.

[6.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? [6.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.

[7.Q] Will the soil/rocks be natural or will some non-original material be added? How big will the soil samples be? [7.A] The soil samples will be from the site but will be altered to increase the bio-load or remove it and will be on the order of a gallon.

[8.Q] What resolution of life detection is required, given that creating truly sterile condition on Earth is almost impossible? [8.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. 

[9.Q] Will there be specific sites for geological analyses, or will the soil/regolith sites encompass this? [9.A] Designated sites will be limited to soil/regolith.

[10.Q] The rules state that teams will be given 20-35 minutes this year to collect data with the rover in the Science mission. Can you explain the fifteen minute range here? Is the presentation preparation time included in this 20-35 minutes and is it the last 15 minutes? [10.A] The range indicates that depending on final scheduling, teams may have as little as 20 minutes of roving time, and as much as 35 minutes. The fifteen minute range is not part of the presentation preparation time.

[11.Q] We noticed that URC is now disallowing the use of hazardous chemicals. This past summer we learned of a chemical being used safely at another rover competition (CIRC) and were hoping to implement it in our life detection tests this year. Will we be allowed to use this checmical at URC this coming year? [11.A] Teams will need to research whether or not any proposed chemicals are considered hazardous by the United States Department of Transportation, and also request permission to use the chemical at URC. Details regarding the approval process for chemicals can be found on the Science Plan page.

[12.Q] For the closed container we must now collect and cache a sample in during the Science mission, how “closed” does this container need to be? Does it need to be fully removable from the rover for delivery to the judges? Do we need to drive the cached sample back to the judges or will they collect it from us from wherever we are in the field at the end of the mission? Do the judges need to be able to open the cache themselves or can we open the cache for them? [12.A] Closed means that the sample will not spill out if the cache container is laid on its side or held upside down (air/water tight is not required). The cache needs to be fully removable from the rover within 5 minutes after the end of the roving time - the sample does not need to be delivered earlier, and the team members may physically remove the cache to hand to judges. The cache must reasonably be able to be opened by the judges.
Note: This answer has been updated to state that the container must be handed to judges within 5 minutes after the end of the roving time. (See Q15 for more detail.)

[13.Q] Can you provide any clarification on the statement that the Science presentation could occur a few hours after our completion of the Science mission? For what reason would the presentation need to be delayed and what would we be expected to do in that time period? [13.A] The final schedule has not been determined at the time of this answer, but there is a possibility that presentations would take place in an indoors setting later in the day. Teams would be allowed to prepare for their presentation during that period, using data collected by the rover. This is simply a matter of event logistics - there is no science-based implication of such a potential delay. However, it is also possible that presentations will occur in the field, similar to recent years.

[14.Q] Rule 1.b.iii says a sample of high scientific value will need to be collected by the rover and given to the judges at the end of roving time. If we mix a chemical into our collected sample does that keep the scientific value of the sample intact, or should we collect a fresh sample to give to the judges? [14.A] Adding a chemical will change the scientific value since it is no longer pristine. Depending on the test you did on the rover and other tests that an astronaut might want to do in a lab, it may or may not be a problem. However, you are not actually going to do any further tests, so in practice if you have a sample that you have done testing on, and think it has the highest scientific value of the samples you've tested, it will be perfectly acceptable as the sample to give to the judges, and you don't need to collect an extra pristine sample.

[15.Q] For the transfer of the soil cache to the judges at the end of the task, we are allowed to present the box to the judges. Is there be a time limit on removing the cache? Should it be very easily detached or are we allowed to have physical reinforcements such as bolts, etc that may take more time to remove and give to the judges. Should the cache be a closed container by the end of roving time? Or can we close it by hand during the handing over to the judges? [15.A] Yes you are allowed to present or hand the cache box to the judges. The judges will expect the cache to be removed and handed to the judges within 5 minutes after the end of the roving time. Physical reinforcements for the cache are allowed. It would be optimal for the container to be closed by the rover by the completion of the roving time, however for 2023 this is recommended but not required. The team may close the top of the cache prior to handing it to the judges.

Extreme 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] The rules now explicitly state that we will need to search over an extended area for a geological specimen of interest that requires specialized knowledge to identify in the Extreme Delivery mission; can we expect this to be a rock specimen as it has traditionally been? [2.A] More details about the exact tasks/objectives within the Extreme Delivery Mission will be published at a later date (we anticipate publishing the course map before the System Acceptance Review deadline).

[3.Q] In the Extreme Delivery mission, we see that the rover will have the option of hauling multiple objects using a small wagon. Will we be expected or strongly encouraged to use the wagon or could we design our own system for carrying multiple objects at once? What sort of graspable feature will the wagon possess (handle, rope, etc.)? [3.A] Teams cannot field any systems that are not considered part of the rover. A wagon will be provided; it will not be required to use the wagon, but may offer an advantage depending on the team's operational strategy. Details of the graspable feature are not available at this time.

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!

Autonomous Navigation 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. Note that it is possible for a rover to get a wheel caught on the post – this is something that teams will obviously want to avoid.

[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 GNSS waypoints (such as based on satellite images) or just the provided GNSS point? [3.A] While at a gate, teams are allowed to enter as many additional GNSS 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. We suggest use of a sunshade to block direct sunlight, but you may use any array, high power LED or other light you chose to purchase or build. Just make sure it is clearly visible for anyone following the rover to know what state the rover is in.

[5.Q] What is the procedure for switching between drone and rover? For example, will we be required to drive the rover off-field/to the start before starting the drone, or could we just stop driving the rover, and vice versa?  What is the drone crashes? [5.A] If the first vehicle has successfully reached an objective (coordinates, post, or gate), and the team wishes to switch vehicles for subsequent objectives, they should leave the first vehicle parked at its current location. If the team wishes to switch vehicles after an unsuccessful attempt, they can have the first vehicle autonomously return to its last valid objective. Teleoperating to return to the last objective will incur a 20% penalty on the objective they are attempting as per rule 1.e.ix.  If the first vehicle is "abandoned" in place, then the team will be subject to a full intervention penalty (20% of all points earned on that mission). Subsequent vehicle switches are allowable under the same logic. Same rules apply if the drone crashes. 

[6.Q] For the Drone itself, does the 11lb include the dummy weight from the battery, or not? Can the dummy weight be a spare battery, just not connected? [6.A] The weight of the drone is inclusive of both the drone and the dummy weight. As per rule 1.f.vii the dummy mass needs to be inert so cannot be a spare battery. You will need to provide an inert dummy weight and the battery which will be weighed by the judges to confirm they are the same weight. 

[7.Q] Can we work on the drone/rover that is behind the start line while the other robot is in the field? (For example, replacing the battery on the drone while the rover is in the field.) [7.A] Working on the drone or rover, including just swapping batteries, is a full intervention penalty. Teams may only work on the drone behind the control station (if the drone returns under controlled/powered flight, it should land at the starting marker, and the drone spotter may carry it to the work area). The second vehicle (rover or drone) is permitted to continue operating on the course while work on the first vehicle is being completed at the control station (if the rover is being repaired in the field, the drone may not be operating).

[8.Q] Are we also given whether or not the coordinate has a post or gate on it, or do we figure that out as we’re going? [8.A] For each objective and set of coordinates, teams will be told whether the objective is: coordinates only (no gate/post), a post, or a gate. The posts and gates will be in the order shown in the image in the rules.

[9.Q] Can we make the indicator light flash for red and blue, as well as green? [9.A] Yes. 

[10.Q] Is the drone landing at a waypoint and taking off instantly satisfactory, or is a longer wait required? [10.A] A longer wait is required. Both the rover and drone, when arriving at an objective, must exit autonomous mode and wait for the judges to confirm a flashing green on the vehicle and message on the control display, and if necessary measure the distance to the post/GNSS point. Once given the go-ahead to proceed, teams may signal the vehicle to re-enter autonomous mode.

[11.Q] Rule 1.e.iii  says there will be a starting post with a high accuracy GNSS coordinate. Can we place our base pole there for use with a RTK setup?  [11.A] No. There is only one start post (as shown in 1.e.vi) and we can't let multiple teams set up their antenna/etc in the same spot. You may go and take GNSS readings at the start post during your setup time.