Rovers descend on southern Alberta's Mars-like badlands

Rovers descend on southern Alberta's Mars-like badlands

If you take away the vegetation and the dinosaur bones, apparently the badlands around Drumheller are a decent stand-in for Mars.

That's why teams from Canada, the United States, Poland and Bangladesh were in that part of southern Alberta over the weekend, testing their robotic rovers in a friendly competition.

"It's sort of Mars-y, I guess," said Ben Davidson, from the Oregon State University contingent. "A little more vegetation than Mars would have, I guess."

Despite his lukewarm endorsement of the geography, Davidson says the competition is an excellent way to think through the inevitable problems of building a rover.

"I think I enjoy having all the teams in one location," he said. "You get to talk to them, you get to say, 'oh, we all have the same problems.' You help each other out."

Hands-off for the humans

In all, 13 teams were in the Drumheller area performing a number of tasks that simulate what a real Mars rover would have to do, including prospecting and extracting resources and searching for an injured astronaut at night.

Of course, acting as a rover on a distant planet, the tasks are hands-off for the human creators.

"Oh, it's very intense. It's difficult watching the rover to figure out how to fix it without being able to actually touch it ourselves," said Yannick Brisebois from Ottawa's Carleton University.

But it's not all technical issues that have to be tackled.

"Teamwork is a real big thing," said Tarun Thomas from the University of Alberta.

"That would probably be the bulk of the effort."

With files from Anis Heydari

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