Students Command Robots Aboard ISS
January 14, 2013

Robots In Space Controlled By Students On the Ground

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

European students were able to command mini-robots aboard the International Space Station (ISS) remotely, helping to win a competition.

A competition gave over 130 high-school students across Europe the opportunity to operate droids in space by coding software.

Teams from Italy, Germany, Spain and Portugal were able to utilize their computer codes to work in the space station, from the European Space Agency's ESTEC space research and technology center in the Netherlands.

The space game involved two mini-robots racing through a course using the least amount of fuel. During the game, the volleyball-sized spheres moved using 12 squirts of compressed gas.

Students commanded the mini-robots to dodge virtual dust clouds and rendezvous with disabled satellites, all in the weightlessness of the space station.

Competitors could collect extra fuel from decommissioned satellites and deorbit the satellites for extra points while navigating through their opponents dust clouds.

“It is really special to see what these students have created and get to operate their algorithms in space,” NASA´s Kevin Ford on the Station said in a statement.

The team of students who had the most fuel left over in the European finals was the BEER alliance, which stands for the Brotherhood of Esteemed European Researchers. These students developed a software that calculated the winning path for their robot in a final game that demonstrated Newton's laws of motion.

The idea to control these robots remotely started when a professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology looked upon Star Wars for inspiration, ESA said. Since then, the mini-spacecraft have been used on the Station for the past seven years.

“Europe is embarking on robotic-related missions. Robots are and will be of great help in space,” ESA astronaut André Kuipers, who ran the competition from the Station last year, said in the statement.

Jaime Sevilla, one of the Spanish players said most of the students knew nothing about computer science before the competition. Sevilla said teamwork and creative strategies were used in order to help them succeed.

"Teachers were pleased to see their pupils learn to communicate with each other, gaining technical knowledge and boosting their enthusiasm," ESA explained.