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Swarmathon Logo

KSC Swarmies

Table of Contents

Safety and the NASA Swarmathon

Instilling a culture of safety is a value that every individual in the NASA community must embrace as we pursue NASA’s mission and vision. NASA Swarmathon has adopted safety as a core value and has established the framework for safety leadership in all aspects of the program. Please refer to Appendix A: Warnings for Using Batteries for information on fire safety regarding Li-ion batteries, and refer to your college or university fire guidelines for safety information specific to your school

NASA believes that the teams that take the lead in developing safety programs and policies have a positive and lasting impact on each team member, mentor, their communities, and their present and future work places. NASA recognizes the teams that demonstrate safety throughout their programs and are truly committed to developing and nurturing a safety culture.


  1. To provide an easy-to-use guide for important safety information providing NASA Swarmathon participants with a basic set of requirements to maintain a safe environment during the competition season and at competition events.
  2. To highlight the safety features of the Swarmie robots to ensure unambiguous and consistent robot operation during the competition season, while also mitigating any and all risks to NASA Swarmathon participants.


This manual applies to anyone involved with the NASA Swarmathon including all student team members, faculty, volunteers, and support personnel while operating Swarmie robots at their college or university and at the Swarmathon event at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Center.


Everyone is responsible for safety during team meetings and during the programing, testing, and event phases of the competition. Please read this entire manual for details on how to be safe.

As an NASA Swarmathon participant, you are expected to:

  • Be familiar with this manual as well as the safety-related requirements applicable to your work area.
  • Work in a safe and responsible manner.
  • Understand and follow established safety requirements.
  • Identify and report any unsafe or hazardous conditions to your team mentor or on-site volunteer coordinator. This includes work practices that may cause an accident. Encourage safe behaviors in everyone around you.
  • Become familiar with this safety plan

Volunteer(s) - NASA/KSC

  • Lead by example. Practice the same safety behaviors that we expect from the teams.
  • Provide guidance and encouragement on a safe working environment. .
  • Identify and report any unresolved unsafe or hazardous conditions to the on-site volunteer coordinator. This includes work practices that may cause an accident. Encourage safe behaviors in everyone around you.
  • Become familiar with this safety plan

Injury Reporting Requirement

Regardless of severity, report all accidents, injuries, and near misses to the Swarmathon management team or the Swarmathon volunteer coordinator. Even injuries that you determine as minor may become serious if proper medical attention is not provided in a timely manner. Remember, each minor event can be a precursor to a major event.

Report to the Visitor’s Center medical clinic (by bus loading area) for minor injuries or dial 321-867-7911 in case of an emergency.

General Safety Requirements

Running and horseplay is not permitted at any time. Always walk and work in a controlled and thoughtful manner. Ensure that team members or mentors are not wearing ties, loose clothing, jewelry, or hanging key chains when near or working on the Swarmies while the tires are moving or rotating. Tie hair back or cover it to ensure it does not become entangled in the tires.

Competition Safety

  • Only Swarmathon management, judges and assigned volunteers shall handle Swarmie robots during the competition.
  • Team participants are not allowed to handle competition robots at any time. If this rule is broken, this can be grounds for team disqualification.
  • All participants will demonstrate safe behaviors in the heat of competition.
  • Proper charging of Swarmie robots will be followed, as detailed in Battery Safety and Charging.

Safety Highlights in the Robot User Guide

The User Guide will detail the following:

  1. A parts list with pictures and descriptions of each part.
  2. Upon opening the Swarmie box, user will be given instruction for proper battery plug in. No other changes are needed or allowed.
  3. Do not modify or repair the Swarmie without specific guidance from the Swarmathon team.
  4. Battery:
    • In order to mitigate battery fire risk, the battery must remain in the LIPO fire resistant bag at all times.
    • Follow the guidelines in the attached Appendix A from the battery vendor for battery charging and use.
    • The battery must be shipped by ground only, never air, following specific instructions in the attached Appendix B.
  5. Identify parts that can be fixed (i.e. wheels may need periodic adjustment and those that should not be touched due to danger or fragility (PCB, motor encoders)
  6. Guidelines for protecting the robot from damage (avoid water, stairs, hitting objects with excessive speed, flipping or tipping the robot)
  7. Robot motors are OFF when the red switch on the rear of the robot is in the DOWN position. Robot should be off when charging, idle or being repaired.

Robot On/Off Switch

  • The switch provided with the robot is purposefully large, red, and easily accessible at the rear of the robot’s chassis to ensure that the robot can be immediately disabled in case of emergency.
  • The switch utilizes a mechanical relay to instantaneously stop all motion and disconnect all power to the robot's motors.
  • The switch must be toggled up to turn the motors on, and toggled down to turn the motors off.

Gripper Safety

  • The servomotors controlling the fingers and wrist of the gripper receive power from the battery via the servo extension board, or SEB. The SEB's 5V, 2.5A voltage regulator bypasses the microcontroller's 5V power supply (which has limited current through the NUC's USB port) to ensure that both servos receive enough power in order to run them concurrently.
  • The gripper's servos are not disabled by the on/off switch, therefore the user should exercise caution when working in close proximity with the gripper to avoid pinching injuries.

Battery Safety and Charging

  • You must read the battery safety agreement listed in Appendix A: Warnings for Using Batteries.
  • Batteries are provided inside of a fire retardant, LiPo-Safe charging bag to mitigate the risk of injury or loss. Never remove a battery from its charging bag.
  • If you intend to ship your robot, you must consult the regulations for safely shipping Lithium batteries listed in Appendix B: Regulations for Shipping Lithium Batteries. Robots should only be shipped by ground, never by air.

Electrical Safety

Proper use and respect for electricity is paramount. The following are general guidelines for ensuring basic electrical safety requirements are met:

  • All electrical devices shall be UL Listed.
  • Inspect equipment cords and extension cords routinely to ensure they are in good condition.
  • DO NOT overload electrical fixtures and/or receptacles.
  • Avoid the following electrical setups to prevent overloading:
  • Power strip plugged into another power strip. (‘Daisy Chaining’)
  • Extension cord plugged into another extension cord.
  • Extension cord plugged into a power strip.
  • ALL extension cords, with the exception of relocation power tap (RPT) SHALL BE UNPLUGGED WHEN NOT IN USE.
  • Multi-device receptacle plugged into a power strip or extension cord.

Appendix A: Warnings for Using Batteries

Important safety instructions and warnings for Li-ion/Polymer batteries

  • You must read these safety instructions and warnings before using or charging your batteries.
  • Lithium Polymer and Li-ion batteries are volatile. Failure to read and follow the instructions below may result in fire, personal injury and damage to property if charged or used improperly.
  • Li-Ion and Polymer battery & packs may explode and cause fire if misused.
  • When charging battery packs, please put the battery in a fire retardant container. Do not leave battery pack and charger unattended on wood material or carpet.
  • Keep Li-Ion & Polymer battery pack away from children.
  • Never reverse the polarity when charging and discharging battery packs. Always double-check the polarity of a battery's connector to make sure red wire is connected to red wire and black wire is connected to black wire.

General Guidelines and Warnings

  • Use specific Lithium Polymer/Li-ion charger only. Do not use a NiMH or NiCd charger. Failure to do so may cause fire, which may result in personal injury and property damage.
  • Never charge batteries unattended. When charging LiPo/Li-ion batteries you should always remain in constant observation to monitor the charging process and react to potential problems that may occur.
  • If at any time you witness a battery starting to balloon, swell up, smoke or become hot, discontinue charging process immediately, disconnect the battery and observe it in a safe place for approximately 15 minutes. This may cause the battery to leak, and the reaction with air may cause the chemicals to ignite, resulting in fire.
  • Since delayed chemical reaction can occur, it is best to observe the battery as a safety precaution. Observation should occur in a safe area outside of any building or vehicle and away from any combustible material.
  • Wire lead shorts can cause fire! If you accidentally short the wires, the battery must be placed in a safe area for observation for approximately 15 minutes. Additionally, if a short occurs and contact is made with metal (such as rings on your hand), severe injuries may occur due to the conductibility of electric current.
  • A battery can still ignite even after 10 minutes.
  • If for any reason you need to cut the terminal wires, it will be necessary to cut each wire separately, ensuring the wires to not touch each other or a short may occur, potentially causing a fire.
  • Never store or charge battery pack inside your car in extreme temperatures, since extreme temperature could ignite the battery.
  • Never drop the batteries.

Charging Process

  • Never charge batteries unattended.
  • Batteries are provided inside of a fire retardant, LiPo-Safe charging bag to mitigate the risk of injury or loss. Never remove a battery from its charging bag.
  • Always have an ABC fire extinguisher for emergency use.
  • Let battery cool down to ambient temperature before charging.
  • Do not charge batteries packs in series. Charge each battery pack individually. Failure to do so may result in incorrect battery recognition and charging functions. Overcharging may occur and fire may be the result.

Storage & Transportation

  • Store battery at room temperature between 40 and 80 degrees F for best results.
  • Do not expose battery pack to direct sunlight (heat) for extended periods.
  • When transporting or temporarily storing in a vehicle, temperature range should be greater than 20 degrees F but no more than 150 degrees F.
  • Storing battery at temperatures greater than 170 degrees F for extended periods of time (more than 2 hours) may cause damage to battery and possible fire.

Caring for Batteries

  • Charge battery with good quality Lithium Polymer charger. A poor quality charger can be dangerous.
  • Use caution to avoid puncture of the cell. Puncture of cells may cause a fire.
  • Charge the battery every 2 months to keep it fresh if you don't use it.
  • Dispose of damaged or failed batteries through a local lithium ion battery recycler following these instructions.

Operating Temperature

  • Charge: 32 to 113 degree F
  • Discharge: 32 to 140 degree F
  • Let battery cool down to an ambient temperature before charging.
  • During discharge and handling of batteries, do not exceed 160 degree F.

Appendix B: Regulations for Shipping Lithium Batteries


Lithium Ion Battery Lithium Metal Battery
Standalone Lithium Ion Standalone (P.I. 965) UN 3480 Lithium Metal Standalone (P.I. 968) UN 3090
Packed With Lithium Ion Packed With (P.I. 966) UN 3481 Lithium Metal Packed With (P.I. 969) UN 3091
Contained in Lithium Ion Contained in (P.I. 967) UN 3481 Lithium Metal Contained in (P.I. 970) UN 3091

Special Provision for 2015 IATA 56TH Edition

  • A88 for Prototype or low production (Page 6 & Page 22 (R.))
  • A89 for Maximum net weight of lithium batteries per package for Cargo Aircraft >35 KG (Page 7)
  • A154 for returned defective battery (Page 7)
  • A201 for lithium metal batteries on passenger aircraft, need exemption. (Page 7)

Country List which accept Lithium ion batteries ([Class 9, Section IA]( Express2015.pdf))

Transport within Passenger Baggage (Page 12-15)

Carrier's Shipping requirement for Lithium Batteries

DOT (PHMSA) Updates

  • 49 CFR 173.185 - as of Jan 28, 2015
  • Proper Shipping Names
    • UN 3480, Lithium Ion Batteries
    • UN 3481, Lithium Ion Batteries packed with equipment
    • UN 3481, Lithium Ion Batteries contained in equipment
    • UN 3090, Lithium Metal Batteries
    • UN 3091, Lithium Metal Batteries packed with equipment
    • UN 3091, Lithium Metal Batteries contained in equipment

Ship Prototypes of Lithium batteries

  • 173.185(e) - Must be shipped by ground as Class 9
  • A55 Cargo aircraft under approval. (The lead time for approval is around 3-6 months. Customer can contact PHMSA for shipping approval by air) (DOT)

Low Production Runs

  • 173.185(e) low production runs of not more than 100pcs, must be shipped by ground as Class 9, Packing Group I packaging. Applies to small batteries.
  • A88 Cargo aircraft under approval (The lead time for approval is around 3-6 months. Customer can contact PHMSA for shipping approval by air)

Damaged, defective or recalled Cells or Batteries