In pursuit of new technological solutions for America’s space program and our nation’s future, NASA and the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass., have opened registration for the $1.5 million 2014 Sample Return Robot prize competition.
Planned for June 2014 at WPI, industry and academic teams from across the nation will compete to demonstrate a robot can locate and retrieve geologic samples from wide and varied terrains without human controls. Teams that meet all competition requirements will be eligible to compete for the NASA-funded $1.5 million prize.
“The objective of the competition is to encourage innovations in automatic navigation and robotic manipulator technologies that NASA could incorporate into future missions,” said Michael Gazarik, NASA’s associate administrator for space technology in Washington. “Innovations stemming from this challenge may improve NASA’s capability to explore an asteroid or Mars, and advance robotic technology for use in industries and applications here on Earth.”
NASA is providing the prize money to the winning team as part of the agency’s Centennial Challenges competitions, which seek inventive solutions to problems of interest to the agency and the nation. While NASA provides the prize purse, the competitions are managed by nonprofit organizations that cover the cost of operations through commercial or private sponsorships. Prizes are awarded only after solutions are successfully demonstrated.
Earlier this year NASA awarded $5,000 to Team Survey of Los Angeles for successfully completing Level 1 of the 2013 Sample Return Robot Challenge. NASA expects the 2014 event will advance the progress of the competition and include new, as well as returning, American competitors.
There have been 24 NASA Centennial Challenges competitions since 2005, with NASA awarding more than $6 million to 16 different winning teams. Competitors include private companies, student groups and independent inventors working outside the aerospace industry.
“We’re honored and excited to once again host the Sample Return Robot Challenge,” said Philip B. Ryan, interim president of WPI. “This year, 10,000 people turned out to watch the competition and to enjoy WPI’s fantastic ‘Touch Tomorrow Festival’ of science, technology and robots. It’s a pleasure to engage people of all ages and backgrounds in the wonders of this competition, this festival and this emerging field.”
In addition to its academic programs, WPI’s Robotics Resource Center supports robotics projects, teams, events and K-12 outreach programs. Each year, WPI manages at least seven competitive robotics tournaments. The university also has sponsored programs that foster the use of robots to solve important societal problems and encourage consideration of the societal implications of this new area of technology.
For more information, including how to register a team for the 2014 Sample Return Robot Challenge, visit http://challenge.wpi.edu.
The Centennial Challenges program is part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is innovating, developing, testing, and flying hardware for use in NASA’s future missions. For more information about NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, visit http://www.nasa.gov/spacetech.