PHS grad part of WVU Lunabotics team

MORGANTOWN – For the third straight year, a team from West Virginia University has finished near the top in NASA’s annual Lunabotics Mining Competition at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Jason Battin, a 2001 graduate of Parkersburg High School, played a key role in the WVU team faring so well the past two years.

The Mountaineers took second place in the competition for the Joe Kosmo Award for Excellence, which honors the team earning the most points overall in the competition.

“With this year’s finish I think it’s safe to say that WVU is now recognized as having one of the top robotics programs in the country,” said Powsiri Klinkhachorn, professor in the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering and adviser for the WVU team.

“Our team was made up of some of the brightest students in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources along with representatives from Bluefield State College and WVU Air Force ROTC members. They worked throughout the academic year to improve on last year’s design and I’m very proud of their efforts.”

Battin, who is working on his master’s in engineering (electrical) at WVU, said he helped to design and build the robot for the international competition. He also designed the patches for the WVU team.

Battin was lead designer on the Mars Rover and wore multiple hats – in mechanical, electrical, software and graphics – in Lunabotics.

“Other teams have come to know me as ‘The Architect,'” Battin said.

More than 700 college students representing 50 universities and eight countries came to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to compete in the competition, which challenges teams to create a remote controlled or autonomous excavator called a lunabot.

During the competition, the lunabot has 10 minutes to collect as much simulated lunar soil, also known as regolith, as possible. The competition was not without its setbacks for WVU, however. On day one, the robot experienced an unexpected sensor failure, which caused it to fall over in the competition pit.

The team was able to right the robot remotely, keeping WVU in the competition, according to a story in WVU Today.

Battin graduated from The Art Institute of Pittsburgh in 2005 with a B.S. in industrial design and the “Best of Show” award. He graduated from Chatham University in 2008 with a Master of Interior Architecture degree.

Each year, the WVU team constructs two robots. Each robot belongs to individual competitions: Lunabotics and RASCAL, Battin said. This year, WVU received second place at the Lunabotics competition and fourth place at RASCAL.

Battin, son of Larry Battin of Parkersburg and Mary Beth Miller of Marietta, serves as an adjunct professor at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh and Chatham University. He teaches design and technical courses such as Solidworks, AutoCAD and introductory engineering courses.

Battin also conducts research and develops prototypes for the West Virginia Robotic Technology Center in Fairmont. The WVRTC is working with NASA on satellite servicing and asteroid capture, he said.

“Despite a stuck limit switch,” said Klinkhachorn, “we were still able to collect more than 15 kilograms of regolith, which was enough to qualify us for day two of the competition.”

The WVU team went back to the drawing board and, after several modifications, tore through the competition on day two, collecting a record-high 150 kilograms in its second run. The team finished fourth overall in the mining competition and second for the team spirit award. Top honors went to the team from Iowa State University.

“I think I speak for the entire university when I say how very proud I am of the team from WVU,” said Gene Cilento, Glen H. Hiner Dean of the Statler College. “Their dedication, work ethic and enthusiasm are unmatched in this competition. They have brought significant recognition to the university and the great spirit embodied by our Statler College students for team design competitions.”

WVU enjoyed the support of alumnus and retired NASA astronaut Capt. Jon McBride, who stopped by before the competition started to wish the team luck on its efforts.