Autonomous robots created by 11 teams of engineers from across thecountry will compete for a NASA prize purse of $1.5 million on thecampus of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), in Worcester,Mass., June 14 -17. The challenge: design and develop the nextgeneration of robots to explore the landscapes of other worlds. The NASA-WPI Sample Return Robot Challenge requires the competingteams to design and build an autonomous robotic system that willlocate and collect a set of specific objects from a large area andreturn the "planetary samples" to the starting zone. The innovative technologies the teams bring forward can help NASAin future exploration of distant planets while also potentiallybenefiting life here on Earth. |
Earthly benefits could include areassuch as disaster recovery and mitigation and remote exploration andmapping of hazardous terrains. The NASA-WPI Sample Return Robot goals are to discover innovativenew technologies to advance robot navigation and sample collectionwithout human control, and demonstrate robotic transportation overvaried terrain without the aid of GPS or other Earth-based systems. The competition also will empower educators and people of all agesby introducing robotics and how they work, where they work, andreal-world applications of how robots will be used the future. The competition's roving area includes open rolling terrain, softsoils, a variety of rocks and immovable obstacles such as trees,large rocks and water hazards.
Teams will be given maps withappropriate orbital resolution, including the location of thestarting position and a pre-cached sample, but will have no controlof the robots during the competition. Robots will have to identify and collect samples and return them totheir starting point. Samples will have different point values.Prizes will be determined based on the scores for the number andpoint value of samples collected and returned to the startinglocation. During the first phase of the competition, a robot mustautonomously navigate and retrieve a pre-cached sample within15minutes. Teams will compete for portions of a $50,000 total prizepurse, with a maximum winning value of $5,000 per team.
In the second phase, a robot must autonomously navigate andretrieve pre-cached samples as well as other, more difficultsamples distributed over the roving area within two hours. Teamswill compete for up to $1.5 million during this phase, with awardsdepending on the amount of points scored and number of successfulcompeting finalists. WPI is the first university selected as host and manager for one ofNASA's Centennial Challenges Programs, which promotes technicalinnovation through novel prize competitions. NASA chose WPI to run this Centennial Challenge because of itsproven experience managing robotics competitions, its academicexpertise in robotics engineering, and its leadership in science,technology, engineering and mathematic education.
NASA uses prize competitions to establish important technicalchallenges without having to specify the approach that is mostlikely to succeed, while only paying for successful results. These competitions increase the number and diversity ofindividuals, organizations and teams that are addressing aparticular problem or challenge of national or internationalsignificance. These challenges stimulate private sector investmentmany times greater than the cash value of the prize.
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