DU students hope to send their robot for lunar mining

DU students
Undergraduate students of Delhi University's Kirorimal College and the Cluster Innovation Centre are building a robot, which can undertake mining activities on the moon. With work on the project scheduled to finish in a couple of weeks, students plan to take part in NASA's annual Lunabotics Mining Competition to be held in May.

Students said they came to know about the competition through their seniors in college, who had participated in the competition last year. "We were the only non-engineering team, which took part in the competition in 2012. The model that we are developing is a device which will move on the surface of the moon and dig lunar soil. NASA encourages collaborations and people from the CIC are helping us. As part of outreach programmes, team members have been going to schools and NGOs to talk about these projects," Sumitra Mohanthy, faculty advisor for the project, said.

Ritika Khera, a second year Physics (Honours) student at Kirorimal College, is one of the students who have been associated with the project since August 2012. "While robotics has been introduced at the school level, students of non-technical courses in college rarely take up this kind of work. Such projects are mostly undertaken by engineering students," she said.

Talking about the project and its relevance to DU's Physics (Honours) course, Ritika said, "Papers in mechanics and electronics have been useful in designing the robot. We calculate torque and look at the motor mechanism of the robot, applying what we study. Principles of mathematics also come into play. For instance, we try to find the angles at which the conveyor belts should be placed so that the sand gets lifted and deposited properly."

While students of the college are working on the mechanical aspect of the robot, Cluster Innovation Centre students have joined help with the software. A second-year B Tech Innovation student at CIC, Tarun Khajuria, said, "Work on the hardware interaction is complete. Work is still on to make the robot autonomous. Although there is no direct link to the classroom teaching to the project, working on robotics and embedded systems during an internship at IIT-Bombay helped me a lot."

Students also spoke about requirements for Lunabotics competition. "The design should be such that the robot is able to dig lunar regolith (loose material that covers rocks), collect it and dump it into a bin of a certain height. The robot cannot weigh more than 80 kg and it should be able to collect at least 10kg of lunar regolith in 10 minutes," Khera said.

The next few weeks will be dedicated to testing the robot with different types of soil. "Lunar regolith is very expensive. So, we are going to test the robot on different types of soil," Ritika Khera said.

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