ISU Headlines

Technology students build robots

Posted December 18, 2006

Idaho State University students Kurt Anderson of Idaho Falls, Layne Drollinger of Rigby, Todd Romriell of Pocatello and Michael Whitten of Idaho Falls don’t just study on their lunch break—they build robots.

But they’re not doing it for free. The undergraduate students each received  $1,000 toward tuition and the group received $3,700 for building materials from the Idaho Robotic Lunar Exploration Program in association with the NASA Idaho Space Grant Consortium and NASA Ames Research Center. Their mission: to build a robot that can simulate digging a trench on the moon, lay a cable and cover the trench with material that will protect the cable from space radiation.

“It’s a chance to do something that could have an impact on future generations,” said Drollinger, team leader.  

“The ideas generated by the student teams at ISU and the University of Idaho will be used as a research instrument in order for NASA to build the actual instrument that will be used on the lunar rover that goes to the moon,” said April Christenson, coordinator of the ISGC.

The robot must be manipulated without using fingers for grasping to move objects. Idaho RLEP designs will be electro-mechanical devices able to accomplish specific tasks. These tasks may include flipping a rock of specific mass, sifting through regolith of specific volume, digging trench a certain depth and width and so on.

The project hasn’t always been easy for Anderson, Whitten and Drollinger, who are enrolled in the ISU College of Technology instrumentation and automation program, and their colleague Romriell, a student in the College of Technology electronic systems program.

 “The initial plan was to have the trench already dug,” said Anderson. “Then we found out that the robot had to do all the tasks and we had to redo the entire plan,” Anderson said. 

But they recovered. “It has been changed for the better,” Whitten said.     “Not only will the students build a robot, but they will open the door to future cooperative efforts with NASA,” said their faculty advisor, Shane Slack, ISU College of Technology electronic systems program coordinator and instructor.