NASA and the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, Mass., have opened registration and are seeking teams to compete in next year's robot technology demonstration competition, which offers as much as $1.5 million in prize money.
During the 2013 NASA-WPI Sample Return Robot Challenge, teams will compete to demonstrate a robot can locate and retrieve geologic samples from a wide and varied terrain without human control. The objective of the competition is to encourage innovations in automatic navigation and robotic manipulator technologies. Innovations stemming from this challenge may improve NASA's capability to explore a variety of destinations in space, as well as enhance the nation's robotic technology for use in industries and applications on Earth. The competition is planned for June 2013 in Worcester, Mass., attracting competitors from industry and academia nationwide.
NASA is providing the prize money to the winning team as part of the agency's Centennial Challenges competitions, which seek unconventional solutions to problems of interest to the agency and the nation. While NASA provides the prize purse, the competitions are managed by non-profit organizations that cover the cost of operations through commercial or private sponsorships.
"We've opened registration and are eager to see returning teams, and new challengers, enter this second Sample Return Robot Challenge," said NASA Space Technology Program Director Michael Gazarik at the agency's Headquarters in Washington. "Contests like NASA's Centennial Challenges are an excellent example of government sparking the engine of American innovation and prosperity through competition while keeping our nation on the cutting edge of advanced robotics technology. Teams from academia, industry and even citizen-inventors are all invited to join the competition and help NASA solve real technology needs. With a $1.5 million prize purse, we're looking forward to seeing some great technology that will enable our future missions and advance robotics right here in America."
The first Sample Return Robot Challenge, which took place in June, also was held at WPI. While almost a dozen teams entered the competition, none qualified to compete for the prize purse. NASA and WPI are partnering again to repeat and advance the competition, which is expected to draw more competitors and greater technological innovation from among the teams.
"We're honored and excited to once again host the Sample Return Robot Challenge," said WPI President and CEO Dennis Berkey. "This year, 7,000 people turned out to watch the competition, which was the first of its kind on the East Coast, and to enjoy WPI's fantastic Touch Tomorrow Festival of Science, Technology and Robots. This university is a hub of expertise and innovation within the area of robotics, and it's a pleasure to engage people of all ages and backgrounds in the wonders of this competition, this festival, and this emerging field."
There have been 23 NASA Centennial Challenges competition events since 2005, and through this program NASA has awarded more than $6 million to 15 different challenge-winning teams. Competitors have included private companies, student groups and independent inventors working outside the traditional aerospace industry. Unlike contracts or grants, prizes are awarded only after solutions are successfully demonstrated.
WPI is one of the only universities to offer bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in robotics engineering. In 2007, the university was the first in the nation to offer a bachelor's degree program in this area. Through its Robotics Resource Center, WPI supports robotics projects, teams, events and K-12 outreach programs. Each year, WPI manages at least seven competitive robotics tournaments and 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.