Press Release Photo
Friends and family with the JBU's robotics team, the Eaglenauts, celebrate JBU's win at NASA's Robotic Mining Competition at the Kennedy Space Center. The Eaglenauts won the Judges' Innovation Award and placed third in the "Systems Engineering Paper" and "Presentation and Delivery" categories. From left: Shermana Philpott, Tiffany Hunnicutt, David Bird, Brian Plank, Jordan Plank, Zach Huffaker, Lindsey Davis, Kaitlyn Bradley, and adviser Dr. Will Holmes.

SILOAM SPRINGS, ARK. (May 27, 2015) — John Brown University’s robotic team, the Eaglenauts, came to NASA’s sixth annual Robotic Mining Competition (RMC) at Kennedy Space Center as one of the smallest teams from the smallest of the 46 competing universities but left as the second most decorated team.

The five-member Eaglenauts team won the Judges’ Innovation Award for the most creativity and placed third in both the “Systems Engineering Paper” category and in the “Presentation and Demonstration” category.

“We are very proud that the Eaglenauts competed so well against dozens of other well-regarded universities like Purdue, Auburn and Texas A&M,” said Dr. Chip Pollard, JBU president. “It is gratifying to see JBU’s engineering students being recognized as among the best in the country by NASA, an organization known for its innovative research. It is also a tribute to the outstanding work done by JBU’s engineering faculty in preparing these students to solve challenging problems in new ways.”

The university-level competition, held May 18-22, allows NASA to observe innovative excavation concepts from students that could ultimately be incorporated into the design of NASA robots.

The Eaglenauts spent the 2014-15 school year designing, building and testing their robot for the competition. The robot was required to excavate and deposit simulated Martian regolith, the top layer of dust and rock, during a 10-minute head-to-head competition. The lunabot also needed to withstand the abrasive characteristics of the environment on Mars, adhere to the weight and size limitations given by NASA and have the ability to be controlled from an off-site location.

The Eaglenauts created a multiple robot design to ensure reliability — an ambitious yet innovative design that created attention throughout the competition, said Lindsey Davis, senior and a member of the Eaglenauts team.

“Our team divided the tasks of the mining competition between three robots this year, something that had never been seen at this competition,” said Davis. “In the arena we could hear the people in the stands chanting for our robots by name — Alpha, Bravo and Charlie. Everyone wanted the same thing: the first ever successful demonstration of a multi-robot system.”

Each member of the Eaglenauts team had a specific role. All seniors, members included Brian Plank, the team lead and primary systems engineer; David Bird, robot’s communication and the control scheme; Kaitlyn Bradley, robots power systems and coordinating teams operations; Davis, design and implementation of excavation robot; and Zachary Huffaker, regolith storage and deposit into collection bin. NASA’s ultimate goal is to develop a robot that will be sent with humans to Mars, to mine regolith to be turned into hydrogen, oxygen and methane elements — all-important elements for water and rocket fuel, said Plank.

“NASA uses this competition as an idea farm,” said Plank. “From the beginning we wanted to develop a system that laid groundwork for a larger family of robots.”

“This success of this year’s team is a direct result of their dedication and hard work,” said Dr. Will Holmes, JBU associate professor of engineering and team adviser. “Some students worked 40 to 50 hours per week on the project in addition to their other coursework.”

John Brown University is a private Christian university, ranked No. 1 overall and a Best Value among Southern regional colleges by U.S. News. JBU enrolls more than 2,800 students from 42 states and 40 countries in its traditional undergraduate, graduate, degree completion and concurrent education programs. JBU is a member of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and a founding member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.


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