European Rover Challenge (ERC) is an annual celebration of space enthusiasts and the most important space-robotic event in Europe. It brings together hundreds of supporters and representatives of the world of science, technology, and business interested in developing innovative solutions in the field of mobile and space robotics. The event enjoys great popularity and prestige. The main event at ERC is the Martian robot competition, showcasing designs constructed by teams worldwide. This year’s seventh edition gathered nearly 100 teams from 6 continents.
This year’s ERC event will be held on September 10-12, 2021, in Poland. Almost 100 teams have registered to compete, including 58 teams who will participate in the ONSITE stationary mode and 38 teams who will compete in the REMOTE mode. Regardless of the formula of participation, it will again be an excellent opportunity to meet science, space, and high-tech enthusiasts as well as experts and representatives of the European scientific and business world interested in the use of space and robotic technologies.
As organizers of the ERC, we are proud to see this community of young visionaries and their supporters getting bigger and bigger every year. The ultimate value of ERC lies in fostering and supporting this unique international ecosystem of knowledge sharing. We have been growing our community of young talents from technical universities worldwide for seven years in a row now, with every successive edition looking further and further beyond the horizon.
Mars on Earth
The competitions in which the teams constructing robots at the ERC participate take place on a track called Mars Yard, built under the supervision of our Science Officer, Anna Losiak, Ph.D. It’s worth noting that the track is so accurately mapped that it replicated exactly where Perseverance has now landed in the last edition of ERC. The soil also complements the spectacular visual effects because Earth contains high hematite levels, or iron oxide, on a level comparable to that on Mars. Hence the color closely resembles the surface of Mars.
ERC is the only competition in the world where robots built by the participants compete against each other in the realistic conditions provided by the Mars Yard. Martian rovers constructed by the competition participants must perform demanding tasks in these conditions, as defined by the organizers. Teams of students, graduates, and researchers from universities worldwide, consisting of dozens of people, work on the construction of a Martian robot – which will have to cope with the competition requirements – all year long. The rovers’ competitions during the ERC are considered to be among the most demanding in this category. This is because of the high level of difficulty and the competition rules, which are designed to reproduce the conditions on Mars realistically.
To inspire the next generation
With each new edition, the ERC organizers set the bar higher and higher for participants, as well as placing the emphasis firmly on the educational aspect. Therefore, this year’s edition will consist of two parts – the Competition Zone and the Inspiration Zone.
The Competition Zone is the venue for the eponymous event, the European Rover Challenge. This unique robotics competition goes beyond textbook theory, allowing students to design, build, and test autonomous rovers’ performance and then compete against other teams from around the world. The tasks prepared for the teams are based on actual missions planned and executed by NASA or the European Space Agency. Their representatives are present at the ERC events as well as being based on real-life engineering experiences. So they further educate participants in solving complex problems that may prove helpful in their future careers.
Meanwhile, the Inspiration Zone will focus the attention of all those interested in scientific and technical demonstrations and presentations, both on-site and online. This part of the ERC is accompanied by lectures and debates with keynote speakers coming from top international space and technology companies.
Special guests of previous editions of the ERC have included, among others, Steve Jurczyk – current Acting Administrator of NASA, Harrison Schmitt – NASA astronaut and member of the legendary Apollo 17 mission, or Tim Peake – a British astronaut of the European Space Agency, who ran the London Marathon during his stay on the International Space Station.
Despite the pandemic
Last year’s sixth edition of ERC 2020 was held in a new hybrid format and was the only prestigious robotics and space tournament in the world to be held this year after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared worldwide. At the time, 30 teams from 14 countries took part, and their struggle was followed by over 100,000 people online.
This year, part of the ERC program will again occur on the Kielce University of Technology campus in Poland, and selected activities and live streaming of the competition will be broadcast on the event website.
The co-organizers of ERC 2021 are the European Space Foundation, the Special Economic Zone “Starachowice” S.A., and the Kielce University of Technology. The event is supported by the Polish Ministry of Education and Science, which co-financed the project under the “Social Responsibility of Science” program.