$1.5 Million Up For Grabs In 2014 NASA, WPI Robot Challenge
August 9, 2013

$1.5 Million Up For Grabs In 2014 NASA, WPI Robot Challenge

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Together with the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), NASA has opened registration for the 2014 Sample Return Robot competition. Academic and industry teams will now begin sending in their applications and building out their robots to compete for a $1.5 million prize.

NASA and the WPI will be looking for robots that can autonomously navigate varying terrain in search of geologic samples. These bits of mineral, soil, rock and more are then collected and returned to be tested. The 2014 Sample Return Robot challenge is held as an extension of NASA’s Centennial Challenges program. NASA is responsible for raising the reward money for the competition with some help from nonprofit organizations and commercial and private partnerships.

"The objective of the competition is to encourage innovations in automatic navigation and robotic manipulator technologies that NASA could incorporate into future missions," explained Michael Gazarik, NASA’s associate administrator for space technology.

"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."

In June NASA awarded a $5,000 prize purse to Team Survey of Los Angeles when they successfully completed the Level 1 portion of the 2013 Sample Return Robot contest. Sam Ortega, the program manager for Centennial Challenges, said at the time that the teams have been improving their robots with each level in the contest.

“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,” Ortega said when the prize money was doled out in June.

Teams are expected to continue improving on their designs as technology improves and teams continue to push their designs to their limits. Registration for the 2014 Sample Return Robot challenge is open now through January 7, 2014.

"We're honored and excited to once again host the Sample Return Robot Challenge," said Philip B. Ryan, WPI’s interim president in a statement.

"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."

The 2014 Sample Return Robot challenge will be NASA Centennial Challenge’s 25th competition in eight years. In these competitions the program has awarded more than $6 million in prize money to 16 winning teams.

Team Survey, the winners of the 2013 Sample Return Robot challenge, built a bot which navigated itself to a predetermined location, picked up a sample, then autonomously returned to it’s starting position. The robot then returned the undamaged sample to the team within the 30-minute time limit. No other team progressed beyond the second level of competition.