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Monday, June 17, 2013



  • Rock deposit, rock return for robotics team
  • Provost provides leadership update
  • Quest down for maintenance Wednesday
  • Senate meets today and other notes


  • Editor:
  • Brandon Sweet
  • Communications and Public Affairs


Members of the UW Robotics Team pose with the Canadian Flag and their robot.
Rock deposit, rock return for robotics team

On the surface, the challenge seems simple enough: build a robot that can collect a rock sample and return it to home base.

Only the terrain is uneven and full of obstacles. And the lighting is poor. And the robot must perform without any human intervention. And the rock sample must be loaded into a special compartment. And you can't use a compass or GPS system because your robot is collecting rock samples on another planet.

That's the setup for NASA's annual Sample Return Robotics Challenge, held each year at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. The University of Waterloo Robotics Team has participated in the contest two years running, and this year, their robot, affectionately named "Professor Marslander" in honour of their faculty advisor Professor Steven Waslander, director of the Waterloo Autonomous Vehicle Laboratory, proved it was up to the challenge.

The team spent months designing and building the four-wheeled, low-bodied robotic rover that was capable of collecting rock samples autonomously. Using the same Velodyne laser scanner that sits atop Google's famous self-driving car, the robot maps its environment and plans an efficient path to both avoid obstacles and explore the entire search area within the contest's two-hour time limit. The robot is also equipped with an array of high-definition cameras that lets it detect samples from a distance of up to 5 metres and hone in on the samples for collection.

The Sample Return Robotics Challenge has two levels: Level 1, in which the robot must collect a sample and return it to home base within 30 minutes; and Level 2, in which the robot must get several samples and return them to home based within 2 hours.

The University of Waterloo's team and Team Survey from Los Angeles were the only two teams whose robots completed Level 1. Unfortunately, the sample from Professor Marslander wasn't correctly positioned on the home base's platform upon return, so it did not qualify to continue to Level 2. However, it turned out that no team advanced to Level 2, so they could take some consolation.

The idea behind the Sample Return Robotics Challenge is to stimulate the development of robot programming and design. As it turns out it is very challenging for a robot to collect samples without human intervention: the terrain is unknown, uneven, and filled with obstacles? the lighting varies, affecting the robot’s ability to “see” and finding the way back home in an 80 000 square-metre area is not an easy proposition. Add to the challenge the need to store the samples in isolated compartments, and you have a very complicated problem to solve.

However, the team achieved victory of another sort, as Professor Marslander won the People's Choice award for most popular robot design, and a Technical Achievement Award for sample detection and collection during Level 1.

The University of Waterloo’s team is composed of 25 graduate and undergraduate students in Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Systems Design Engineering. The students battled mechanical, electrical, and programming challenges in making the robot while juggling their regular academic activities.

According to a statement, the team wishes to thank the Faculty of Engineering, the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering, and Clearpath Robotics for their "crucial support." The team hasn't yet decided which of the of the many robotics competitions it will participate in next year, as Canadians are not eligible for the prizes in Level 2 of NASA's competition. However, the challenge was "very rewarding for the team in terms of engineering experience."

They also call out Google's self-driving car: "watch out for that rapidly closing robot in the rearview mirror!"


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Provost provides leadership update

A memorandum from Vice-President, Academic & Provost Geoff McBoyle outlines some new leadership appointments:

  • Professor Flora Ng of Chemical Engineering became Chair of the University Appointments Review Committee (UARC) as of June 1 for a three-year term.
  • Professor Beth Jewkes of Management Sciences will become Associate Provost, Resources as of August 1 for a three-year term.
  • Bud Walker, currently Special Advisor to the Vice-President, Academic & Provost, will add the position of Interim Associate Provost, Human Resources to his responsibilities as of July 1 until the new Associate Provost, Human Resources arrives on campus.

"I am very grateful that Flora, Beth and Bud have agreed to take on the above positions," says McBoyle.


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Quest down for maintenance Wednesday

The Quest system will be undergoing maintenance this Wednesday, June 19. The downtime is scheduled between 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m., during which the system will be unavailable.

The reason for the scheduled downtime is maintenance to the system's hardware.


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Senate meets today and other notes

The university's Senate meets for the final time this spring today. On the agenda for approval are some curricular modifications in Physics, Tourism, and the Diploma on Green Energy, and the establishment of a Bachelor of Arts (Economics and Mathematics Economics 2+2) in partnership with Shandong Normal University in China. Senate will also hear reports from the President, Vice-President, Academic & Provost, the Vice-President, University Research, the Chief Information Officer, and a research presentation from History professor Wendy Mitchinson. The body will resume monthly meetings in September.

Recently-hired assistant coach for the Warriors men's hockey team Brett MacLean has been featured in a CBC video.


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Link of the day

World Day to Combat Desertification

When and where

Course Selection Week, Monday, June 17 to Sunday, June 23.

Child Vision Research Society Conference 2013, Monday, June 17 and Tuesday, June 18, 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., School of Optometry and Vision Science. Details.

Employer Interviews (Pharmacy), Monday, June 17, 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Senate meeting, Monday, June 17, 3:30 p.m., NH 3001.

Senate Undergraduate Council meeting, Tuesday, June 18, 12:00 p.m., NH 3001.

Retirement celebration for Steve McColl, Tuesday, June 18, 2:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., LHS 1656 (fireplace lounge).

25-Year and 35-Year Club Recognition Reception, Tuesday, June 18, 6:00 p.m. Physical Activities Complex.

UWRC Book Club, "Waiting for Sunrise" by William Boyd, Wednesday, June 19, 12:00 p.m., LIB 407.

Centre for Career Action presents Career Interest Assessment, Wednesday, June 19, 2:30 p.m., TC 1112. $10 registration fee required.

Chemistry Department Seminar Series featuring Prof. Mamata Mohapatra, Institute of Minerals and Materials Technology (CSIR-IMMT), India, “Simple Synthetic Approach for Shape Oriented Fe/Ti Oxide Nano Particles:  Application in Water Treatment Technology” Wednesday, June 19, 2:30 p.m., C2-361. Details.

VeloCity Campus event: "Design," featuring speaker Christopher Howlett. Wednesday, June 19, 7:30 p.m., EV3 4412. Free pizza. Register online.

Deadline for 50 per cent tuition refund, Friday, June 21.

46th Annual K-W Multicultural festival, Saturday, June 22 and Sunday, June 23, 12:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., Victoria Park. Admission is free. Details.

Cheriton School of Computer Science Distinguished Lecture Series featuring David Sankoff, University of Ottawa, "Computational Genomics of Flowering Plant Evolution," Monday, June 24, 3:30 p.m., DC 1302.

Lunch and Learn Pension session, “Retirement Planning Tools: myPENSIONinfo/Annual Pension Statement”, Tuesday, June 25, DC 1302, 12:00 to 1:00 p.m. Details.

Postdoctoral event - Fun in the Park, Tuesday, June 25, 4:30 p.m., Waterloo Park Picnic Shelter. Details.

Centre for Career Action presents Work Search Strategies, Wednesday, June 26, 10:30 a.m., TC 1208.

Student Life 101, Thursday, June 27.

Petition to the Registrar to register late form required to become Fees Arranged after Sunday, June 30.

Canada Day Celebrations, Monday, July 1, Columbia Lake.

Canada Day Holiday, Monday, July 1, university closed.

Student Consultation Group - uWaterloo Student Portal, Wednesday, July 3, 12:00 p.m., SSO multipurpose room. Details.

Environment Lecture Series featuring Sven E. Jørgensen, University of Copenhagen, "Samsø , a Danish Island based on renewable energy," Wednesday, July 3, Waterloo Summit Centre for the Environment, Huntsville. Details.

Student Consultation Group - uWaterloo Student Portal, Tuesday, July 16, 12:00 p.m., SSO multipurpose room. Details.

ChemEd 2013 conference, Sunday, July 28 to Thursday, August 1. Details.


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