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Wisconsin Robotics brings Scorpio to national competition

Scorpio takes a test run on the steps of Engineering Hall.

Scorpio, a robot created by a team of UW-Madison students, is named for the rear arm that rises above its wheels and body, resembling a scorpion tail poised to strike. It also shares its name with a well-known constellation, which is fitting, as it’s intended to function as a planetary rover in space. 

The team, Wisconsin Robotics, designed Scorpio so that it can be driven from over 1,000 miles away using a 4G-cellphone connection that allows the robot to connect to the Internet. Any good rover must be able to pick up matter on a foreign planet, says team treasurer and embedded team leader Stephen Eick, so the team used a 3D printer and laser cutter in the College of Engineering Student Shop to create a robotic claw for Scorpio.  

Scorpio will test its mettle for exploration in the ASC-AL Exploration Robo-Ops Competition Thursday, June 5 from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. The competition, organized by the National Institute of Aerospace and sponsored by NASA, is held in Houston, Texas.  UW-Madison was one of eight schools selected to compete, and this will be Wisconsin Robotics’ first time participating in the competition. 

Robots in the competition will have to execute certain tasks, such as picking up rocks at the NASA Johnson Space Center’s Rock Yard. They will be scored based on their performance of these tasks, as well as on following requirements and time limits. Teams must control the robots remotely from their home campuses. Cash prizes will be awarded to the top three teams.

Scorpio already has the honor of being the lightest of all eight robots in this year’s competition.

The 2014 Wisconsin Robotics team with an early version of Scorpio.

“When sending something to another world, it's very helpful to have whatever you're sending be as light as possible, less fuel is required to launch it, less energy is required to move it at its destination,” Eick says. “While we aren't actually planning on sending this to another world, the competition organizers strongly suggest we work toward making it as light as possible.”

Since Scorpio was named the lightest, the team gets first choice of the eight time slots available to compete. Wisconsin Robotics chose the last time slot, as it will allow them to view the competition course from other teams’ live feeds and fix any issues that may arise.

The team is composed of 22 undergraduates and one graduate student. Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Michael Zinn serves as the team’s advisor. 

During the competition, a live stream will be available for anyone who’d like to watch Scorpio in action.

Jasmine Sola