MORGANTOWN - Eric Loy, a resident of Keyser and graduate of Potomac State College and West Virginia University (WVU), served as the lead on the WVU team that recently won NASA's Mars Ice Challenge.
MORGANTOWN - Eric Loy, a resident of Keyser and graduate of Potomac State College and West Virginia University (WVU), served as the lead on the WVU team that recently won NASA’s Mars Ice Challenge.
The Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts – Academic Linkages (RASC-AL) challenged the teams with creating a plan that would successfully allow them to drill into a simulated Martian surface of ice, gravel and clay, in order to extract water which could then be used for human consumption, and serve as a way of sustaining life on Mars.
This was the first year for the ice challenge, which was held in conjunction with the NASA Langley Research Center centennial celebration activities in Hampton, Virginia.
Under the guidance of advisor Powsiri Klinkhachorn, computer science and electrical engineering professor at WVU, the group created a system they dubbed “Mountaineer Ice Drilling Automated System” or MIDAS.
“We wanted as few problems as possible with our system, so we enlisted the help of colleagues from various other departments as we worked out the details. We also made sure that we selected a drill with sufficient power when testing our system to mitigate burning up or breaking under duress. What’s more, by looking at the constraints and maximizing our system's performance within them, we were pretty confident that our drill could do the job,” said Loy.
Of the 50 teams that submitted proposals, only eight were chosen to participate: Alfred University in New York, Colorado School of Mines, North Carolina State University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Tennessee-Knoxville, University of Texas at Austin, and two teams from WVU.
When asked about serving as the team lead, Loy responded by stating, “I enjoyed it very much! A lot of the things that I learned at Potomac State prepared me for serving as the team’s lead. Professors like Gary Seldomridge, Deepak Mehra and Mohammad Saifi taught me things that were beneficial when I took on the role of team lead, like writing proposals, managing the budget, organizing meetings, and just jumping in and doing what needed to be done.
“Potomac State also helped me acclimate to college life, both academically and culturally, and their well-aligned curriculum parallels really well with WVU’s which made my transition to Morgantown very easy,” said Loy.
“We are very proud of Eric and all that he has been able to accomplish,” stated Jennifer Orlikoff, Ph.D., campus president of West Virginia University’s Potomac State College.
“He is an excellent role model for our students and I am pleased to note that he received such a strong academic foundation at Potomac State College.”
The group has been involved in outreach activities as well, contributing more than 750 man hours visiting schools and presenting robotic demonstrations, involving more than 17,000 school-age children.
Loy has also served as a keynote speaker, attended energy conferences, and held workshops to instruct teachers on how to better engage their students in robotic technology.
He has been a member of several robotics teams at WVU including the Mercury Remote Robot Challenge, and NASA’s RASC-AL’s Robo-Ops Challenge.
Loy earned his associate degree from Potomac State College and two bachelor’s degrees from WVU, one in electrical engineering and the other in computer engineering. He is currently working on a thesis for his master’s degree in electrical engineering, and anticipates graduating by the end of the year.
“It was a great learning experience and we were up against some pretty good competition. We knew our system had to be robust and reliable because we didn’t know what type of issues we would run into, like cave-ins or walls collapsing, so we played around with different strategies until we were confident that ours would perform as expected – and it did!” stated Loy.