A team of UC San Diego students is putting the final touches on their Mars rover. They go by Yonder Dynamics and are finalists in the 2017 University Rover Challenge (URC), an international robotics competition for college students put on by The Mars Society.
"I was that kid who sat taking notes during Discovery Channel as a kid," said Megan Elliott, a team leader.
Elliot says unlike many of their competitors, Yonder Dynamics built their rover from scratch, with no previous design to work with. For that reason, making it into the final round has been that much more exciting.
The students say while much has been uncovered about Mars in the last two decades, a lot is still unknown. They hope their designs and ideas will one day change that.
Like a self-driving car, they want their rover, named Courage, to be fully autonomous. The students say they're about halfway there.
"If the rover was autonomous it could actually plan out what to do on its own. We could save a lot of time that way," said Kirk Hutchison, one of the team's co-founders.
The 40 student team, nearly half of which are women, say the work has been empowering.
"For me, it's a special thing to be able to walk into this lab and see everyone put their brains to work on problems," said Hutchison. "Seeing everyone's hard work visualized in the flesh like this, that's already enough victory for me."
On Saturday the team will be testing their rover at Glider Point from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Then on June 1-3, they'll compete at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah. The winner will earn cash and a chance to present at the International Mars Society Convention.