Hamilton County team wins Mars rover charging station prototyping competition


For Park Tudor School junior Vanessa Xiao, the ability to work well together made the difference for Team BrightLight.


Team BrightLight recently was named the winner of the Health & Science Innovations’ IDEAA Challenge 2020, earning $3,000. Xiao was one of three Carmel residents on the team. The others were Carmel High School senior Zoha Aziz and University High School junior Aisha Kokan. The fourth member was Fishers resident and Hamilton Southeastern senior Nikhil Datar.

The IDEAA Challenge is a prototyping competition for Indiana high school students. Teams work to find a solution to a specific challenge using concepts of design, engineering, automation, mechatronics, coding and research. The 2020 challenge was to design a Mars rover charging station using renewable energy. Team BrightLight presented its design to 30 peers and industry professionals. Team members proposed a way to wirelessly charge rovers using electromagnetic induction and energy captured from wind, as opposed to the current rover charging methods that are clunky and easily rendered unusable.


“We each took on a role and knew our responsibilities for them,” Xiao said. “We thoroughly understood our prototype, and if we encountered any problems, we would contact each other and work them out. To even create our prototype, we researched and had team meetings to discuss ideas. Through a lot of hard work and dedication, we created a final product we were all proud of.”

Aziz said communication was essential because the team strategically planned out each person’s role.

Team members met at the HSI summer camp Young Innovators Quest and then came together to form a team.


Kokan said the key to the team’s success was focusing on the process rather than the end goal.

“We went into the project wanting to learn as much as we could about NASA’s approach to tackling the atmosphere and geology of Mars,” Kokan said. “Because of this mindset, we were able to be very creative and not limit ourselves when brainstorming solutions on how to build an efficient Mars rover charger. Dividing our project into the stages of problem identification, product design and prototype testing allowed for better time management. The team was also very collaborative and was able to effectively combine our ideas together for the best solution.”


Datar, a Hamilton Southeastern senior, said the team was imaginative with its ideas.

“When we brainstormed possible solutions to the challenge, we made sure to never rule out one of our ideas until we had done extensive research,” Datar said. “Reaching out to professors and graduate students at Purdue was very helpful with the research, as we were able to gain expert knowledge about the current systems in place for Mars rover charging and foster ideas for how we could improve them. We also made sure to properly balance the time spent on different parts of the project, including brainstorming, designing, prototyping, etc., in order to get each milestone of the project done on time.”

Kokan said the team managed to overcome the difficulties of communicating despite the restrictions put in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Before the pandemic, we met at the Carmel Clay Public Library,” she said. “When this was no longer possible, we began meeting on Zoom, doing research, discussing ideas and brainstorming solutions together. We would then have longer calls devoted to writing our ideas out into paper format.”


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