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Newport Native on Alabama Robotics Team that Won NASA Competition

For the seventh time in nine years, the Alabama Astrobotics team won NASA's Robotic Mining Competition.

"I'm very happy to have (University of Alabama) Astrobotics recognized by NASA as the 2021 Robotic Mining Competition: Lunabotics national champion," Dr. Ken Ricks, electrical and computer engineering associate professor and team adviser, said. "The Astrobotics team overcame many obstacles during a challenging year to represent UA and the College of Engineering in the highest manner."

The team includes Daulton Guthrie, a Newport native and mechanical engineering major.

After not having a competition in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Alabama team returned to prominence during this year's competition called Lunabotics, which was split into two separate challenges. Alabama Astrobotics competed virtually with 52 other teams in the Design it, Build it, Dig it Challenge.

Since there was no in-person digging component with the robot this year, NASA judged the teams in five categories, which were executive summary, project management plan, systems engineering paper, public outreach and presentation/demonstration.

Alabama's team has fifty active student members and won first place for their systems engineering paper, first place in outreach, and second place in technical presentation/demonstration, which led to the overall grand prize - the Joe Kosmo Award for Excellence.

Preparation for this year's competition looked different than years past because the team had to adhere to lab occupancy limitations and safety guidelines to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 infection.

These changes made the team feel behind from the start. Ricks said productivity was limited because of social distancing, and organizing a schedule for the lab and setting deliverable deadlines was a struggle. 

Ricks agreed the team worked relentlessly to rise above the difficulties they faced. His high expectations are not easy to meet, but the team is focused on improving themselves instead of worrying about the competition.

"We work hard. I ask a lot of the students. I expect them to achieve the standard that we've established here at UA," Ricks said. "It's nice to win, but we can always do better. We're not competing against other teams. We're competing against our own internal standards. I am very proud of our team members for rising to the challenge."

This year marked Alabama Astrobotics sixth consecutive win, and the team will continue to strive for more in 2022.

-Staff report