The Retrievers

Aiming, literally, for the stars

Schenectady students, only h.s. team in int’l space competition, built robot at Proctors

The education wing at Proctors—along with a bevy of regional partners—supported The Retrievers, a group of Schenectady High School science students in their goal of developing usable technology for the planned 2020 Mars Rover Mission. Guided by Navy veteran and team leader Robert Svec, the team was housed at theatre from 2013-15, and competed in the NASA Sample Return Robot Centennial Challenge.

Almost a dozen SHS students and teachers worked together to create a working sample return robot, which was submitted for multiple events at Touch Tomorrow: A Festival of Science, Technology and Robots at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass., competing for a $1.5 million prize with 22 teams from as far as Canada, California, Mexico and Estonia. 

“The objective of the Sample Return Robot Challenge,” according to WPI, “is to develop new technologies or apply existing technologies in unique ways to create robots that can autonomously seek out samples and return to a designated point in a set time period. Robots will be required to navigate over unknown terrain, around obstacles and in varied lighting conditions to identify, retrieve and return these samples.”

The Retrievers name, according to Svec, stemmed from a comment made by Proctors CEO Philip Morris, who noted the original plans for the rover (a rectangle with an open front to collect samples) looked, “like a doghouse.”

Uniquely, The Retrievers were the only high school-based team in the world to participate in the competition.

Among those assisting in funding, materials donation and technical assistance were Morris; Mac Sudduth, executive director, MiSci; Robert Carreau, executive director, The Schenectady Foundation (who paid the Centennial Challenge entrance fee); Paul Heiner, CEO/president, Logic Technology (who offered early investment for test parts); J.T. Pollard, principal of Re4orm Architecture (whose firm created CAD drawings for specific elements); and Tony Hynes, president and owner, PVA/Precision Valve & Automation, Inc. (who fashioned final parts from Pollard’s designs).