Rovers descend on southern Alberta's Mars-like badlands

Competition asked teams to complete tasks like resource prospecting and extraction or rescuing an injured astronaut at night.

13 international teams competed to perform tasks that could be expected from a robot on the red planet

Yannick Brisebois from the Carleton University team looks on as their rover performs a task near Drumheller on Sunday. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

UPDATE: Oregon State University took top prize in the Canadian International Rover Challenge, while Team Argo from the Bialystok University of Technology in Poland claimed second and the Carleton Planetary Robotics Team from Carleton University in Ottawa came in third.

If you take away the vegetation and the dinosaur bones, apparently the badlands around Drumheller are a decent stand-in for Mars. 

That's why teams from Canada, the United States, Poland and Bangladesh were in that part of southern Alberta over the weekend, testing their robotic rovers in a friendly competition. 

Watch student-built rovers compete in Drumheller, Alta.

4 years ago
Duration 0:38
The international competition drew teams from Canada, the U.S., Poland and Bangladesh.

"It's sort of Mars-y, I guess," said Ben Davidson, from the Oregon State University contingent. "A little more vegetation than Mars would have, I guess."

Despite his lukewarm endorsement of the geography, Davidson says the competition is an excellent way to think through the inevitable problems of building a rover.

"I think I enjoy having all the teams in one location," he said. "You get to talk to them, you get to say, 'oh, we all have the same problems.' You help each other out."

Hands-off for the humans

In all, 13 teams were in the Drumheller area performing a number of tasks that simulate what a real Mars rover would have to do, including prospecting and extracting resources and searching for an injured astronaut at night. 

Of course, acting as a rover on a distant planet, the tasks are hands-off for the human creators. 

"Oh, it's very intense. It's difficult watching the rover to figure out how to fix it without being able to actually touch it ourselves," said Yannick Brisebois from Ottawa's Carleton University.

But it's not all technical issues that have to be tackled. 

"Teamwork is a real big thing," said Tarun Thomas from the University of Alberta. 

"That would probably be the bulk of the effort."

With files from Anis Heydari