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UMass Lowell Students Win National NASA Competition

‘Rover Hawk’ Bests Other Universities’ Robots in Remote-Control Trials


Contacts:  Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or or 
                 Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209 or
LOWELL – UMass Lowell students have won a national NASA competition that asked them to build a Mars rover-style robot and operate it via remote control, testing its durability and precision on varied terrain that mimicked the surface of another planet. 

The UMass Lowell Rover Hawks – a play on the name of the university’s sports teams, the River Hawks – won the RASC-AL Exploration Robo-Ops Competition on June 6, beating out seven other university teams from across the country. The win comes in just the first year UMass Lowell was selected to participate by contest organizers NASA and the National Institute of Aerospace, which awarded the team $10,000 to build its rover based on plans submitted last December and a $6,000 cash prize for the championship. 

To capture the win, the team’s rover successfully negotiated hills and wide expanses and picked up objects for one hour on a simulated planetary surface at NASA’s Houston training headquarters while being remotely controlled by team members at the New England Robotics Validation and Experimentation (NERVE) Center at UMass Lowell, the country’s most advanced robotics-testing facility. Also contributing to the team’s final score was its success in producing an educational campaign about the contest that engaged the university community and the public through social media. The competition was streamed live over the Internet, allowing supporters to watch the rover take on challenges such as climbing a steep and rocky hill known as Mount Cosmo. 

A team from the University of Maryland placed second and Worcester Polytechnic Institute finished third. 

“It was really exciting to win! We were a first-year team up against teams that had already been in this competition before, some who had won multiple times. Our students put in a great effort to build and program the Rover Hawk for the competition,” said UMass Lowell Computer Science Prof. Holly Yanco, the team’s adviser and a nationally respected robotics expert.

Team members hail from Acton, Bridgewater, Chelmsford, Dennis, Dracut, Ipswich, Lawrence, Lowell, Northborough, Peabody, Raynham, Rockport and Tewksbury; Brookline and Salem, N.H.; and Bronx, N.Y. 

UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its more than 16,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health and environment, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be ready for work, for life and for all the world offers.