This year our Women in Aerospace for Leadership and Development (WIALD) student organization has been working on a robotics project – more specifically – a planetary rover. WIALD members have been building, modifying and testing the rover, WIALD Wanderer, to accomplish different missions which they hope will carve a path for future projects.

The group began working on the project last fall for the Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) Robo-Ops competition. Although WIALD was not selected to participate in the competition, the team’s president, Ashleigh Caison, said they decided to continue working on the rover project for the remainder of the school year.

She said the rover has given WIALD members the opportunity to be involved in a hands-on project while applying classroom knowledge, engineering skills and practical applications.

“There’s the goal of creating this robust rover that is capable of performing a lot of missions and potentially set WIALD up for a future project using it,” Caison said. “There is also the goal of helping us become better engineers and better leaders.”

The group was composed of four teams – structures, arm, communication and electronics. The teams have been working together to create a rover that can pick up a variety of objects like pieces of wool and pens with the capability of traveling across multiple types of terrains.

Aerospace engineering sophomore Courtney Gallen served as the chief engineer for the structures and arm team. This team focused on building the body and arm of the of the rover.

The body was comprised of a plastic base and wheels. The team used an off-the-shelf rover kit and modified it by adding a motor controller and a plastic box, which they drilled holes into and screwed onto the plastic base.  

Initially, the arm kit came with one arm and a pincher claw, but the team switched it out for a claw with interlocking fingers because they wanted something more substantial with a better scoop mechanism, Gallen said. They designed a new claw and extension pieces, then used a 3-D printer to create the new part.

The communications team connected motors to hand-held controllers in order to control the rover’s movements and the electronics team set up a GoPro camera to stream the video onto a computer screen.

To test the rover on different terrains, they drove WIALD Wander over books and soda cans and even drove it into walls.

“Being chief engineer helped me get a feel for when to step forward and when to let your team go work and do their thing,” said Georgian Hormann, communications and electronics chief engineer. “It’s been really fun to work with people who are passionate about aerospace.”

The WIALD Wanderer was demonstrated a WIALD meeting in late April and at their end-of-year banquet.

Caison said that they will continue to test and tweak the rover. It will be up to future WIALD members, she said, to decide whether to continue improving it or start another rover project from scratch.

Student projects like these would not be possible without external support. If you are interested in supporting our student groups or learning more about these projects, visit our student projects page.