What does it take to design a great space robot?

This blog was originally posted on the Twinkl Education Blog in March 2019.

Over the last couple of months, a team from Sheffield Robotics and Twinkl have been working on an awesome app for the UK-Robotics and Autonomous Systems Network’s (UK-RAS) School Robot Competition 2019.

Robotics app banner

The UK Robotics and Autonomous Systems Network (UK-RAS) is running the annual UK Robotics Week for the fourth time this year, with the School Robot Competition being a particular highlight. The competition aims to engage students in robotics, science and engineering and we are particularly keen to encourage students from all backgrounds to participate.

The competition team, a collaboration between Sheffield Robotics, Twinkl and other partners, have created a digital competition app which will be available for phones, tablets, laptops, and desktops, in the hope that we can really bring robotics to everyone.

Download the app now! Via Google Play or  Apple app store.

The competition

The competition will launch on the 27th March and will be open to individuals and teams from 8-14-year-olds. Through the app, students will be able to build a virtual planetary exploration robot (like a Mars rover) from modules that have specific functions – including wheels to move, sensors to detect the environment, drills to dig into the planet’s surface – and then test the performance and versatility of their robot through 3 different terrains. Using a tablet or mobile phone, the students will also be able to view augmented reality versions of their robot and the test terrains, moving their device to get different viewpoints.

Once they think their robot is ready to go, students will deploy their robots on the challenge terrain – will it successfully navigate obstacles to reach target sites and gather objects like a real rover would? Students will have multiple attempts to improve their robot based on feedback from the app, and whoever’s robots complete the most checkpoints and do so in the fastest times will have the chance to win some great prizes!

Find out more about the competition!

UK Robotics Research

The UK-RAS Network represents the UK’s leading robotics research institutes. A priority theme for research in the UK is currently around hazardous and challenging environments – places not safe, or suited to humans. These include space, in nuclear environments, and offshore.

To tackle the challenges in these areas, the Engineering an Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has funded four research Hubs: the Future AI and Robotics for Space (FAIRSPACE) Hub led by the University of Surrey, the Robotics and AI in Nuclear (RAIN) Hub led by the University of Manchester, the National Centre for Nuclear Robotics (NCNR) led by the University of Birmingham and the Offshore Robotics for Certification of Assets (ORCA) Hub led by Herriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.

Their robots enable us to explore planets and maintain satellites, decommission nuclear power plants without exposing humans to high levels of radiation, and survey offshore energy environments and platforms that are difficult to access. We have taken inspiration from space robotics for the competition this year, and the Hubs have been getting involved by providing factsheets to introduce students to these different areas of robotics research in the UK.

Take a look at our competition and app user guide

Competition development and the next steps

Over the last couple of months, the team have been meeting regularly and working behind the scenes to develop this year’s competition. We’ve been exploring the different areas of robotics that the UK-RAS Network are working on to refine ideas for the basis of the app, such as the work Sheffield Robotics is doing in modular robotics, and generating challenge ideas.

We’ve also been working to shape the graphics, robot and terrain models and the app interface as a whole to make it slick and user-friendly, including some early testing with some enthusiastic young volunteers. We’ve also been making links between robotics and the curriculum, to ensure the app can be integrated into lessons and will be supporting this with factsheets with information on the work of the robotics Hubs.

See our supporting resources here!