Sample Return Robot Awarded NASA's Centennial Challenge Prize
June 11, 2013

NASA’s Centennial Challenge Prize Awarded To Sample Return Robot


After two days of extensive competition, Team Survey of Los Angeles was awarded $5,000 in prize money after successfully completing Level 1 of the Sample Return Robot Challenge, a part of NASA's Centennial Challenges prize program.

The event, hosted by Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) June 5-7 in Worcester, Mass., drew robotics teams from the United States, Canada and Estonia to compete for a total of $1.5 million in NASA prize money. Eleven teams arrived to compete at WPI; 10 teams passed the initial inspection and took to the challenge field. After two rounds of Level 1 competition, Team Survey met the $5,000 prize requirements and was declared the winner of this year's competition.

Team Survey members Jascha Little, Russel Howe, Zac Lizer, Tommy Smith, Zoe Stephenson, Scott Little, Brandon Booth, and Joanna Balme, all from Los Angeles, were presented a check June 8 by NASA's Larry Cooper, Centennial Challenges program executive, at the opening of the TouchTomorrow technology festival. A WPI organized science and robotics festival attracted thousands of attendees, showcasing the teams and robots as well as NASA and WPI exhibits in science, robotics and space technology.

"It is evident from the level of improvements the teams have shown from last year's event to this week's Level 1 win that the technology has significantly progressed, and the desired results of this challenge are within reach," said Sam Ortega, program manager of Centennial Challenges. "We are so proud of the great spirit and camaraderie the teams have shown, as well. It speaks volumes about the caliber of teams and individuals who compete in these events."

NASA uses prize competitions to increase the number and diversity of the individuals, organizations and teams that are addressing a particular problem or challenge. Prize competitions stimulate private sector investment that is many times greater than the cash value of the prize and further NASA's mission by attracting interest and attention to a defined technical objective.

To win prize dollars, teams were required to demonstrate a robot that can locate and collect samples from a wide and varied terrain, operating without human control. The objective of the challenge was to encourage innovations in autonomous navigation and robotics technologies.

Team Survey's robot successfully completed Level 1 by navigating from the starting platform and locating a sample that was previously identified in the robot's onboard computer. The robot then autonomously returned one undamaged sample to its starting platform within the 30-minute time limit. No teams made it to the second level of the competition this year.

Returning teams this year included SpacePRIDE of Graniteville, S.C.; Survey of Los Angeles; Wunderkammer of Topanga, Calif.; Intrepid of Lynnwood, Wash.; and the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. New teams entering the competition this year were Fetch of Alexandria, Va.; Middleman of Dunedin, Fla.; Mystic Lake Robots of The Woodlands, Texas; Team AERO of Worcester, Mass.; the Autonomous Rover Team of the University of California at Santa Cruz; and Kuukuglur of Estonia.

NASA's Centennial Challenges program is part of the agency's Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is innovating, developing, testing and flying hardware for use in NASA's future missions. For more information about the Space Technology Mission Directorate and the Centennial Challenges Program, visit:


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