Jascha Little, Russel Howe, Zac Lizer
Los Angeles, Calif.
The trio chose their team name to convey a theme of autonomous navigation. They wanted something short and sweet, and "Survey" fit the bill. They have refrained from giving their team robot a name until they feel it has earned one. "Once it does something notable, it will probably get an appropriate name," said Jascha Little.
The Road to Robotics:
All three members have a professional tie to robotics. "I'm a mechanical engineer with a lot of professional experience in automation and robotics," Little said. "I also got interested in fighting-robot competitions and spent years building robots for those." Teammates Russel Howe and Zac Lizer both work with autonomous robots as part of their careers, so they each come to the table with a solid background for this competition.
Entering Centennial Challenges:
"We heard about the challenge through the Internet. The three of us were interested in working on a side project of our own, and this seemed ideal, if a bit ambitious," Little said.
"We are definitely trying to do the project as cheaply as possible," said Little. "We did not have budget for LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) or serious inertial navigation sensors."
Their robot will contain two laptops, two stereo pairs and a high-resolution camera for sample detection.
Dividing the Workload:
Little, as the mechanical engineer, is responsible for the construction and mechanical design of the robot, while Howe and Lizer are developing the software that will program and control the robot.
Little said that the parameters of the competition have been a struggle to contend with. Designing a way for the robot to orient and then direct itself without the use of any Earth-based technology has been difficult. "Finding samples in such a large area with no absolute navigation (like GPS) is really tough," he said.
Keeping the robot to a svelte 80kg (176 pounds) has been another obstacle the team has overcome. "I designed the robot too close to the mass allowance and had to undertake a weight-loss program. It was painful, and very reminiscent of the fighting-robot days," he said.
Looking Toward the Competition:
Though the team would like more time before the actual challenge, they will take their chances. If they don’t succeed, Little predicts it will be easy to determine the reason. "We just don't have enough time to get the project done the way we would like. … Failing because the software isn't finished is the likeliest outcome."
If I Had a Million Dollars...:
"Robot parts, of course. I might be able to afford some LIDAR if we won the prize!" said Little.