NASA Space Robot Needs Your Help Preparing for Mars

NASA's Space Robotics Challenge offers a $1 million prize purse for teams that program a virtual Robonaut 5 robot through a series of complex tasks in a simulated Mars habitat.

If you’ve ever wanted to help build a space robot, now’s your chance. And you could win the $125,000 first-place prize, to boot.

NASA has opened registration for its Space Robotics Challenge (SRC) that seeks your help in developing the capabilities of NASA’s Robonaut 5 (R5) Valkyrie humanoid robot that will help astronauts on a journey to Mars.

Registration for the SRC is open until September 16. The qualification software will be released on September 19, with qualification ending November 15. The final teams will be selected on December 1, with the finals running June 13-16, 2017 and the winner being named on June 30.

Here’s where more than just bragging rights come into play. The winner of the SRC gets $125,000, with $100,000 going to second place, $50,000 to third, and $25,000 to fourth. And up to six teams can take home a $50,000 bonus for completing all 18 subtasks one single run.

Must-Read: NASA Valkyrie Robots Prepare for Life on Mars

NASA needs help improving robot dexterity. Teams in the competition must program a virtual robot to complete a series of tasks in a simulation that includes periods of latency to represent communications delay from Earth to Mars. Each team’s R5 will be challenged with resolving the aftermath of a dust storm that has damaged a Martian habitat. This involves three objectives: aligning a communications dish, repairing a solar array, and fixing a habitat leak.

Hydraulic-based robotics systems can’t be used in space, NASA said, because of the below-freezing temperatures and the harsh environment of planetary surfaces. That’s why the R5 uses elastics technology instead of hydraulics – an innovative way of addressing the problems of operating in space. This technology could also benefit humankind on Earth, as they could operate under dangerous or extreme environments on our home planet.

“Precise and dexterous robotics, able to work with a communications delay, could be used in spaceflight and ground missions to Mars and elsewhere for hazardous and complicated tasks, which will be crucial to support our astronauts,” said Monsi Roman, program manager of NASA’s Centennial Challenges. “NASA and our partners are confident the public will rise to this challenge, and are excited to see what innovative technologies will be produced.”

The SRC is open to anyone, but each team leader needs to be a US citizen.

About the Author

Steve Crowe · Steve Crowe is managing editor of Robotics Trends. Steve has been writing about technology since 2008. He lives in Belchertown, MA with his wife and daughter.
Contact Steve Crowe:  ·  View More by Steve Crowe.


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