In the sixth annual and largest NASA Robotic Mining Competition, a team of 14 Mines students will be competing against 53 teams from all over the nation to design and build a mining rover.

The senior design team, Blasterbotica, is taking apart last year’s rover and building new components to build a smaller rover for the competition May 18-22 at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. The rover will have to traverse a simulated Martian terrain, excavate regolith and gravel and deposit them into a collector bin within 10 minutes. The winning team will receive the Joe Kosmo Award for Excellence trophy, KSC launch invitations, team certificates for each member and a $5,000 team scholarship.

It’s unusual for teams to build a new rover instead of improving the previous team's rover, but Blasterbotica thinks this will give them an advantage.

“Ours will have a regolith delivery system made up of a bucket ladder and dumping system,” said David Long, mechanical engineering student. “We have created a unique method to lower the excavator, allowing it to go from perpendicular to vertical to almost horizontal. We can lower it in as deep as we want. This will give us a lot more mobility in terms of how we want to excavate.”

One of the challenges the team faces is staying within the weight and size limitations of the contest. The students received a donation from Lockheed Martin to fund their lightweight materials, such as aluminum and steel for the frame and polycarbonate for dust shielding and electronic boxes.

“It has to be durable because we want future teams to be able to use it,” said mechanical engineering student Nichole Cusack. “We will be using chains similar to ones you might see on a bucket ladder. This allows us to get better traction and turn easier so the treads don’t sink in.” 

Last year, the team lost functionality in the rover during the competition because they used a faulty interface. To prevent that from happening again, the team will be using LINUX to allow for flexibility in driving the rover.

“We can’t sense the walls in the arena this year so we have to use inertial measurement units and camera vision to determine location,” said Long. “Power monitoring the rover is a big deal.”

The team is working quickly to have a build done by early April in order to have a month of testing. Since October, the team has delivered STEM presentations using previous rovers to area schools, such as Bell Middle School, Powderhorn Elementary School, Foothills Elementary School, Coal Creek Canyon Elementary School and Mitchell Elementary School.

Blasterbotica is comprised of students in the fields of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science. The team’s faculty advisors include mechanical engineering professors Christopher Dreyer and Ozkan Celik. Their client is Angel Abbud Madrid, director of the Center for Space Resources at Mines.

Visit to read more about the team. Keep up with the team’s progress on Facebook and Twitter.

The Senior Design Program is part of the College of Engineering & Computational Sciences, and is a creative multidisciplinary design experience emerging from combined efforts in civil, electrical, mechanical, and environmental specialties in engineering.



Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 /
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 /

Colorado School of Mines Mechanical Engineering professor Xiaoli Zhang and graduate student Songpo Li have developed a gaze-contingent-controlled robotic laparoscope system that can help surgeons better perform laparoscopic surgery.

Laparoscopy is an operation performed in the abdomen or pelvis through small incisions with a camera. Laparoscopic instruments (typically 0.5-1 centimeters in diameter) are inserted through small incisions and then operated inside a patient’s body together with a laparoscope that allows the surgeon to see the surgical field on a monitor. Unlike open surgery, laparoscopic surgeries have reduced scarring, lessened blood loss, shorter recovery times and decreased post-operative pain. But due to limitations of holding and positioning the laparoscope, surgeons struggle with physiologic tremors, fatigue and the fulcrum effect.

Zhang and Li’s attention-aware robotic laparoscope aims to eliminate some of these physical and mental burdens.

“The robot arm holds the camera so the surgeon doesn’t have to,” Zhang said, noting that the camera is controlled effortlessly. “Wherever you look, the camera will autonomously follow your viewing attention. It frees the surgeon from laparoscope intervention so the surgeon can focus on instrument manipulation only.”

Their system tracks the surgeon’s viewing attention by analyzing gaze data. When the surgeon’s eyes stop on a new fixation area, the robot adjusts the laparoscope to show a different field of view that focuses on the new area of interest.

To validate the effectiveness of this procedure, the team tested six participants on visualization tasks. Participants reported “they could naturally interact with the field of view without feeling the existence of the robotic laparoscope.”

Zhang and Li anticipate that their technologies could have more than just healthcare applications, such as being used for the disabled and the elderly, who may have difficulty with upper-limb movements.

“Using this system, the surgeon can perform the operation solo, which has great practicability in situations like the battlefield and others with limited human resources,” Li said.

In mid September, Li received the Colorado Innovation S.T.A.R.S. challenge award for “Best Technical Achievement” at the college level during the JeffCo Innovation Faire. Zhang and Li are working with clinical researchers and industry partners to commercialize their attention-aware robotic laparoscope.



Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 /
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 /

Mechanical engineering graduate student Songpo Li received the Colorado Innovation S.T.A.R.S. challenge award for “Best Technical Achievement” at the college level during the JeffCo Innovation Faire Sept. 12. Li’s research project, “Gaze-Driven Automated Robotic Laparoscope System,” allows surgeons to interact with the laparoscopic vision easier and more naturally using their gaze, while freeing both their hands for manipulating the surgical instruments in laparoscopic surgery.

“It was a great opportunity to demonstrate our research results to the public through the Innovation Faire, and it was also my great honor and pleasure to receive this award,” Li said. “Using this system, the surgeon can perform the operation solo, which has great practicability in situations like the battlefield and others with limited human resources.”

Submissions were awarded based on research that was "original thinking and solved a real problem."



Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 /
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 /


Mechanical engineering professor Ozkan Celik and two Mines students have designed a robotic exoskeleton, named the Wrist Gimbal, which would assist stroke patients to complete repetitive movement therapy tasks. Based on a previous model Celik designed, this new robotic device focuses on two rotational degrees of freedom and would cost less than $5,000.

Robots have degrees of freedom, otherwise known as joints that enable their movements. Each revolute joint creates one rotational degree of freedom. As the team decreased the degrees of freedom from three to two in the new device, they used more balanced and robust materials and created an improved intuitive visual interface.

“The degree of freedom we eliminated was wrist abduction and adduction—which has the smallest range of motion among the three,” Celik said. “Also, exercising wrist flexion and extension can be expected to benefit abduction and adduction as some muscles are involved in both movements.”

Since wheelchairs are not uncommon for stroke patients, the team developed a robotic exoskeleton that a stroke patient could be strapped into while seated. Patients would hold onto the device and use wrist movements to complete assessment exercises that would determine their maximum range of motion. The robot applies force to aid or deter movements, and records responses in particular tasks.

“The device provides motivation,” Celik said. “Our game-like interface exerts assistive forces to stimulate patients and prompt them to complete exercises with assistance.”

Senior mechanical engineering student and president of Robotics Club David Long worked on the mechanical design and 3D printed, machined and laser cut several of the parts of the device and specialized in the robot’s control system.

“Feedback control is one of those classes I took last semester that I didn’t think I was going to use much. Then suddenly, that’s all I did all summer and it was great because when you see something theoretical like that and apply it in practice, it really gives you a lot of faith in course work,” Long said. “I am going to be using it for a long time.”

Graduate mechanical engineering student Hossein Saadatzi is currently working on the kinematics and dynamics of the device and developing an active gravity compensation method that would allow the robot to provide more accurate force feedback.

“In my graduate study, I wanted to improve my skills in practical and experimental work,” Saadatzi said. “I chose biomechatronics because I can apply my knowledge to help patients get better.”



Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 /
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 /

To kick off Alumni Weekend, the College of Engineering and Computational Science (CECS) hosted the Senior Design Trade Fair on April 24 in Lockridge Arena. Seventy alumni judges evaluated 42 design teams as they presented their projects. Teams were scored on their project content, design content, poster and display, dialogue and overall impression. Five teams were selected as overall trade fair winners.

“I'm extremely proud of the teams that presented at Trade Fair and all of the work that went in to their final projects,” said Jered Dean, mechanical engineering professor. “While the competition was close, the CSM FourCross team stood out because of the way that they balanced the needs of all the stakeholders in the design to arrive at a simple, practical solution.”

Overall Trade Fair Winners

1st Place (CSM FourCross – Team 11)

  • Emily Hixon
  • Abigail Krycho
  • Clayton Boatwright
  • Jacqueline Stabell
  • Hannah Margheim
  • William Pietra
  • Brian Stack

2nd Place (Wingin' It - Team 35)

  • Gabriel Alvarado
  • Andrew Boissiere
  • Ashley Hertzler
  • Mathew Jirele
  • Kit Lewis
  • James Wilkerson
  • Matthew Brady
  • Richard Nguyen

3rd Place (Zephyrus - Team 42)

  • Cabe Bonner
  • Kelsey Wokasch
  • Alex Dell
  • Jyotsana Gandhi
  • Katherine Rooney
  • Aaron Troyer
  • Jeremy Webb
  • Zachary Weber
  • Kevin Tan

4th Place (OmniPumps - Team 31)

  • Eric Chapa
  • Nicole Davis
  • Aaron Faulkner
  • Adam Mowery
  • Logan Ramseier

Kid's Choice (Colorado AdvantEdge - Team 6)

  • Erika Blair
  • Katherine Poffenbarger
  • Kendrick Stalnaker
  • Justin Loeffler
  • Michaela Hammer
  • Julia Morin
  • Kevin Tornes

Essay Contest Winners

  • 1st Place: "Fun Theory" by Dustin Burner
  • 2nd Place: "How a Camera Mount Revolutionized Video and Internet Content" by Benjamin Paley
  • 3rd Place: "Mile Per Gallon Readouts: Changing Driving Behavior Through Feedback" by Kevyn Young

Each year senior students in the civil, electrical, environmental, and mechanical engineering programs in the CECS take a two-semester course sequence in engineering design targeted at enhancing their problem-solving skills. Corporations, government agencies and other professional organizations, as well as individual clients, provide projects for the student teams of five to eight students to work on. Students spend the academic year developing solutions for the projects to which they have been assigned, using tools they have learned throughout their careers at Mines.

View a full list of projects. Check out Mines Radio, The Blastercast, to listen to interviews with the team.



Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 /
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 /

Two College of Engineering and Computational Sciences Senior Design Program teams display the more human-oriented side of engineering

CSM FourCross

Mechanical engineering professor Joel Bach was at the No Barriers Summit in Telluride last summer when he heard about the challenges the Crested Butte’s Adaptive Sports Center faced with providing quadriplegic bikes that were safe and efficient. Bach brought this idea back to Mines, and the senior design team CSM FourCross was created.

FourCross began in the fall semester of 2013, during which the team focused on research, testing and initial designs. This semester has been dedicated to finalizing a design, prototyping, and manufacturing.

Team computer-aided design specialist Court Pietra said that he has learned that an engineer’s number one goal should be considering how design would interact with the intended user.

“We must first put ourselves into the shoes (or in this case mountain bike) of the person that we are designing for,” Pietra said. “If the design does not easily improve or make the lives of the intended users better, the design will not make the desired impact on that user. We want the design to be worthwhile for that person in order to change their life for the better.”

Currently braking methods on quadriplegic bikes consist of the user strapping their hands on the brake levers and using their body weight to activate them.

“Incomplete quadriplegics lack grip strength; therefore, they are unable to activate the traditional brakes that are on a bike,” Hixon said.

The team is also challenged with creating a new seat back that would prevent hyperextension of a user’s back during a crash.

Adaptive Sports Center Program Director Chris Read said this project could increase the user base tremendously.

“For our participants that didn’t have the best options before, this project could help them now,” Read said. “It also has cross benefits for our ski program, making our mono-ski fleet more personal.”

Colorado AdvantEdge

Mines senior design team Colorado AdvantEdge is working on creating edge detection system, which can be mounted on a wheelchair. Twelve-year-old Katherine Dean was born with Cerebral Palsy and cannot walk. Her family is working with the team to outfit Kate’s chair with a sensor system. The system will be able to detect a three-inch drop-off in a variety of light levels and ground compositions.

“Engineering decisions are often made solely with efficiency in mind. Our project allowed us to make decisions that would most benefit the user while keeping efficiency in mind,” Team liason Justin Loeffler said.

One of those decisions was adding extra sensors—at an extra cost—to allow Kate to stop her chair before the system stopped her chair. Kate’s safety and a greater level of freedom play an important role in the system the team is designing. The team is currently testing their edge detection algorithms with the sensors mounted on a robot chassis.

“Edge detection in front of a moving wheelchair is a very challenging problem and challenging problems require out of the box ideas,” Loeffler said. “Creativity has been a great asset to this project and adds a level of interest. Knowing that the project is to help another experience a level of freedom we take for granted every day creates a great drive for moving the project forward.” 

Four Cross and Colorado AdvantEdge will be presenting their projects at the Senior Design Trade Fair April 24 from 8-11 am in the Student Recreation Center, Lockridge Arena.



Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 /
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 /

Colorado School of Mines mechanical engineering student Katarina Bujnoch was recently selected for a remote operated underwater vehicle (ROV) engineering summer internship, during which she will be studying the seafloor aboard the Exploration Vessel Nautilus. The Ocean Exploration Trust oversees the vessel and more than 150 rotating scientists, engineers, educators and students who are part of the mission.

Bujnoch will be examining the impacts of Deepwater Horizon oil spill on coral reefs and other marine ecosystems.

“I wanted to get into robotics, and I think this internship is unique because I get to be on the research side of the field,” Bujnoch said.

Bujnoch will study and maintain ROVs, Hercules and Argus. She will work with the two systems to explore, locate and describe new habitats, geological processes and cultural sites, to name a few.

“I’m hoping to have a better idea of how an actual ROV works,” Bujnoch said. “It will be exciting to learn what research is like in the field, especially in this different environment.”

Currently, Bujnoch is designing an underwater vehicle that can move around and transport objects as part of an undergraduate research fellowship.



Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 /
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 /

If you have seen the James Bond movie, GoldenEye, or played the Nintendo 64 video game, you might remember the radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. Mines mechanical engineering student Alexis Humann was selected for a 10-week summer research program, during which she will working on building an autonomous robot to clean the world's largest single-dish telescope.

“Right now when people clean it they put on giant snowshoes to even out their weight; the weight of a person would collapse it,” Humann said. “We will need to build a robot that is really light and well distributed.”

The observatory telescope is used to study the properties of planets, comets and asteroids. Scientists who want to use the telescope are required to submit proposals for an independent scientific board. It will be a unique opportunity for Humann to work with the telescope firsthand.

“Everyone in the aerospace industry knows about this observatory and it has a great reputation,” Humann said. “I will be working with some of the top scientists in the world. I am so excited to be able to meet them and learn all about their work.”

Humman is also looking forward to the opportunity to combine her mechanical engineering skills with her interest in aerospace.

“I think space exploration is going to move away from man exploration and go into the robotics side of things,” Humann said. “There is so much technology to improve upon there, and the possibilities are endless.”

Currently Humann is working on an undergraduate research fellowship with Dr. Douglas Van Bossuyt to build a robot that can analyze its health and make its own decisions.



Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 /
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 /

Mines students are working with Mechanical Engineering (ME) professor John Steele and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) professor Qi Han to build and develop a system to automate oil and gas processes through unmanned robots. Blaster, the original prototype, will be deployed to the Petroleum Institute (PI) in Abu Dhabi to increase the safety in oil and gas refineries. 

Currently, refinery operators are exposed to potential explosions, gas leaks and extreme weather conditions.

“We are trying to get robots to do the same operations humans can do, but by taking the human out of harm’s way, we are increasing safety,” Steele said. “Abu Dhabi can reach up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, so people are exposed to extreme heat as well as sand storms and possibly gas leaks. If the robot is harmed, you can always build another one.”

The robot is equipped with a methane gas sensor, video camera, microphone, thermal imaging camera, GPS, digital compass, laser-range finder and Wi-Fi client-bridge. Each of these sensors will help it navigate, avoid collisions and transfer information back to the control room operator.

EECS students Adewole Ayoade and Marshall Sweatt are collaborating to develop applications that will take readings from the sensors to determine the robotic location and remotely log those readings for analysis. Alex Yearsly, a ME student, designed and manufactured the 5-degrees of freedom robotic arm after taking over from Dan Albert, a recent graduate. John Steuben, a graduate student in engineering systems, designed and 3D-printed the sensor housing for the robot’s head. 

Ayoade emphasized the importance of testing the robot in conditions similar to the refinery. “Because we are working on a real life project, we have to understand the environmental conditions of where we are sending the system,” Ayoade said.

Once Blaster’s build is completed, Ayoade and Sweatt will travel overseas to test its functionality and transfer the technology to faculty and students at the PI.

“I’m really excited; I’ve never been to the United Arab Emirates before,” Sweatt said. “It is an honor to be invited.”

Blaster’s capabilities will demonstrate Mines’ ability to develop a robotic system for inspection and operations. The robot will become the basis for a proposal to a French robotic competition called ARGOS Challenge, sponsored by TOTAL, in which contestants from all over the world will develop advanced robotic capabilities for oil and gas environments.

Watch a short video of the robot here.



Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 /
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 /

This article is part of a series on the undergraduate research fellowship program

As part of a two-semester undergraduate research fellowship, junior chemical and biochemical engineering student Rima Baliga is working with mechanical engineering professor Dr. Anne Silverman on creating a rotationplasty model for a project in collaboration with Children’s Hospital Colorado.

“When people think of Mines, they don’t always immediately think of medicine,” Silverman said. “But in our research, we are using engineering tools to advance clinical care.”

Rotationplasty is an uncommon procedure used when a person has a tumor near the knee and needs to have it removed. Rather than amputating the leg from above the knee down, surgeons can remove the tumor and surrounding tissues. They then rotate the remaining portion of the leg 180 degrees and reattach it to the thigh. The rotated ankle joint becomes a new knee joint.

Baliga is developing computational models to analyze the effects of this surgical procedure.

“Modeling this procedure could be used to improve prosthetic design,” Baliga said.

Baliga is currently using the software program OpenSim to build a skeletal model to represent a patient who has undergone rotationplasty. This program allows Baliga to analyze computerized models in extensive detail to gain greater understanding of human motion.

“Musculoskeletal models help us to understand the action of individual muscles,” Silverman said. “In a movement simulation, we can determine when muscles are active and how they coordinate to move the skeleton.

This semester, Baliga will add a prosthetic limb to her model. She will use experimental walking data from Children’s, in combination with the musculoskeletal model, to develop a walking simulation of a patient. Baliga will also compare muscle forces over the gait cycle between a walking simulation of the rotationplasty patient and that of a non-amputee.

Susan Kanai, a physical therapist at the Center for Gait and Movement Analysis at Children’s Hospital Colorado, hopes this project will improve the level of care for individuals after rotationplasty surgery and that research findings could be shared with the medical community.

“This current project has many layers and we hope to continue this collaboration in the future,” Kanai said.

Undergraduate research fellowships are administered by the research council. Students can apply for a fellowship to work on a project with a faculty member.



Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 /

Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 /


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