Robotics teams compete for $1.5m in NASA challenge

12th June 2015
Siobhan O'Gorman


Twenty robotics teams, ranging from university students to small businesses, are currently taking part in NASA Sample Return Robot Challenge for a cash prize of $1.5m.

At the autonomous robot competition held at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts, teams must demonstrate their robot can locate and collect geologic samples from a large and varied landscape, without human control, through two levels of competition that grow in complexity. The objective is to encourage innovations in autonomous navigation and robotic manipulation technologies. These innovations may enhance NASA's space exploration capabilities and could have applications on Earth.

"With missions to other planets and deeper space in our sights, it is increasingly valuable and necessary to see these technologies through," said Sam Ortega, Program Manager, Centennial Challenges, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. "Robots are our pioneers, and solving this challenge will be a breakthrough for future space exploration."

NASA awarded $5,000 for Level 1 challenge completion to Team Survey of Los Angeles in 2013 and the West Virginia Mountaineers of Morgantown in 2014. Both teams are eligible to begin the 2015 competition at Level 2.

Returning teams include:
• Formicarum of Worcester, Massachusetts
• Gather of Alexandria, Virginia
• Lunambotics of Mexico City
• Middleman of Dunedin, Florida
• Oregon State University of Corvallis
• The Retrievers of Schenectady, New York
• Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Rock Raiders of Troy, New York
• Wunderkammer of Topanga, California

New teams include:
• Army of Angry Robots of Silicon Valley, California
• DT Bozzelli of Ann Arbor, Michigan
• MAXed OUT of San Jose, California
• Mind and Iron of Needham, Massachusetts
• Massachusetts Institute of Technology Robotics Team of Cambridge
• RoboRetrievers of Tampa, Florida
• Sirius of South Hadley, Massachusetts
• Smart Move of Clearwater, Florida
• Smart Tools of Gurnee, Illinois
• National Autonomous University of Mexico

The Sample Return Robot Challenge is managed by NASA’s Centennial Challenges programme, which falls under the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) in Washington.

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