A Virginia Tech College of Engineering student team has left for Houston’s Johnson Space Center to participate in the 2014 RASC-AL Robo-Ops Challenge, an annual event sponsored by NASA and the National Institute of Aerospace.

The seven-member Virginia Tech Robo-Ops team has with them a green, 3-foot-long, 19-inch-tall, six-wheeled lunar robot is rover named Animus as part of the June 3-5 event. Virginia Tech is one of only eight national collegiate teams traveling to Houston, using the self-built Animus to run an obstacle course and collect rock samples on a faux planetary service. Note: “Animus” is Latin for “intellect.”

The event can be watched live via the Internet at the RASC-AL Robo-Ops Challenge website.

Animus features a suspension system similar to the NASA rover currently exploring Mars, according to the team which includes students from the departments of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. It uses a rocker-bogie wheel system to keep the rover constantly in contact with the ground while traversing myriad terrains, said Animus leader Tom Corona of Saratoga Springs, New York, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering last month.

“Our team has been hard at work round the clock preparing for the competition and many of us have stayed in Blacksburg post-graduation to debug any issues,” said Corona. “Seeing our designs come to life has kept us motivated throughout the build and we are more than excited to see how it will stand up to our competitors. As we head to Houston, we are proud of how far we have come as a team, and hope we can make a name for ourselves this year and for future Virginia Tech Robo-Ops teams.”

Events at the Johnson Space Center are judged for timeliness and task efficiency. Not all team members will travel to Houston with faculty advisor Kevin Shinpaugh, an adjunct faculty member with the College of Engineering and director of the Virginia Bioinfomatics Institute’s Information Technology and Computing Services. 

Three students will be allowed to attend physical trials, while the remaining group stays in Blacksburg, remotely controlling Animus as it collect rock samples via a robotic arm.

Powered by four 24-volt batteries, the robot uses three cameras adorning its front, mast, and arm for visualizing its environment and spotting the rock samples, said team member and new engineering alumnus Nicholas Socky of Roanoke, Virginia. Socky will help control the robot’s movement in Houston from Blacksburg, via computer.

This is the first year that Virginia Tech has made it to the physical competition of the Houston-based RASC-AL event, now in its fourth year. Previous teams only made it to the poster session of the event.

Animus team members include Jimmy Congleton of Charlotte, North Carolina; Jason Duane of Gainesville, Virginia; Christopher Gumm of Marlton, New Jersey; Joe Haslem of Yorktown, Virginia; Kevin Hummel of Millbrook, New York, all new graduates with degrees in aerospace engineering; and Matt Canavra of Sterling, Virginia, a rising sophomore in aerospace engineering.