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MAMMOTH mathematics

10 February 2016

New algorithms designed for the MAMMOTH, an experimental planetary rover, have won a University of Sydney research student this year’s international MathWorks Simulink Student Challenge.

The demand for STEM skills will increase as we progress into the 21st century.
Professor Salah Sukkarieh

William Reid, a final year robotics PhD candidate, used MATLAB and Simulink software to improve the mobility of the MAMMOTH (or Mars Analogue Multi-Mode Traverse Hybrid) rover, claiming the highly contested international competition.

The 28-year-old has focused his research efforts on improving the agility of the wheel-on-leg platforms used on robotic devices that could be employed in extra-terrestrial exploration.

“I have been investigating ways to efficiently control robots like the MAMMOTH rover as well as planning routes for them,” William says.

“The Simulink software helped me to solve significant mathematical problems and to improve the programming responsible for the robot’s movements.

“By being a wheel-on-leg system, the MAMMOTH rover is energy efficient while moving over flat terrain. It uses complex clambering and body weight shifting manoeuvres to traverse more challenging surfaces.”

Working alongside a team of experts at the University’s Australian Centre for Field Robotics, William, who has developed a suite of planning and control techniques, says:

“The ongoing research goal is to ensure high traversability and safe and efficient operations for such a vehicle on rough terrain.

Professor Salah Sukkarieh, William's PhD supervisor, says students from around the world submitted videos to the Mathworks Simulink Student Challenge, showcasing the use of Simulink in their work. Mathworks products are widely used internationally in engineering, science, mathematics and in the finance and technology sectors.

“The video displayed how well the MAMMOTH rover is able to overcome the various challenges that it could face while on a different planet.”

On another high note, the team returned this week from Dubai where the MAMMOTH rover was showcased as part of the UAE AI and Robotics Award for Good international competition.  

The MAMMOTH rover, which is a component of The Mars Lab program, clinched fourth place in the competition among a field of 10 international university and corporate teams.

“There were a total of 664 submissions from 121 different countries to the competition, 10 of which were selected to present their projects in the Dubai finals,” says Professor Sukkarieh.

“The MAMMOTH rover is a tool we use to help inspire young students to study science, technology, engineering and maths while at university.”

Professor Sukkarieh says the demand for STEM skills will increase as we progress into the 21st century.

According to a recent Deloitte survey 31.5 percent of respondents reported having difficulty recruiting STEM graduates; while 40.4 percent had difficulty recruiting STEM qualified technicians and tradespeople. This implies that although many of the required positions were filled, the actual candidates hired may not have possessed all the skills and attributes that employers were looking for.

The Mars Lab program attempts to address these issues by using space exploration as the inspiration for its education program. The program brings an inquiry-based approach to learning. Students are asked to generate their own research questions and formulate a plan on how they will conduct their experiments to answer these questions. From their classrooms, students are given an authentic, immersive and interactive experience where they can participate in an exploration mission using robots to answer their research questions.

At the conclusion of the program, students are asked to present their findings to the class and reflect on their experience.

Victoria Hollick

Media and Public Relations Adviser
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