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WVU wins international robot challenge contest

BCHS alum Michael Lemon one of 11 on-site performers

By Shirley Shuman

In mid-May, Michael Lemon, a BCHS and WVU graduate-to-be at that time, eagerly anticipated the upcoming 2023 University Rover Challenge to be held at the Mars Research Station in Utah. Now he can report on the team’s excellent performance May 31-June 3. More than 40 WVU students from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering built their robot, Wanderer, for the competition. However, teams were limited to 11 on-site participants. Lemon was one of the 11 who participated and reported total success for Team Mountaineers as they placed first among 30-plus teams from 10 countries as distant as Poland and Australia.

Lemon explained that the WV team had the highest scores in two of four challenges they faced and had a perfect score in another category. In that category, Science Mission,  the Braxton native noted, “We were given three soil samples and, using our robot, had to analyze them to see if they contained life. Two did, but the other one didn’t.”  For the other part, they used Wanderer to identify three rocks.

In the Extreme Retrieval category, which Lemon declared “the most interesting,” Team Mountaineers received the highest score among all competing teams. Those who prepared for the robot challenge “had [reportedly] built a big roadblock,” Lemon said, “ and only three teams got past it.” He added, “We were among those three and were successful in locating a special rock in a rock garden beyond the road block. The person who was driving the robot found it, and it was petrified wood instead of an actual rock. After that we had time to complete the remaining tasks in Extreme Retrieval.”   In this challenge the WVU team received a n perfect score, and Lemon called the exercise “the high point of the whole trip.”

Dr. Yu Gu, associate professor in mechanical and aerospace engineering and WVU’s team advisor, accompanied the group to the site in Utah. Graduate student Stephen Jacobs was the team leader for the challenge.

Michael Lemon is home now, filling out job applications and being interviewed, and he does it as he savors the taste of success. Of the trip to Utah and the challenge, Lemon said, “We did a lot of work and learned a lot.” He finished with, “Just to able to work on something, then compete and win is validating.”