The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has joined forces with Worcester Polytechnic Institute to host the Sample Return Robot Challenge, a robotics competition expected to gain interest from several sectors.
NASA and WPI recently opened the robotics contest submission period, encouraging teams to showcase their technical expertise and compete for a potential $1.5 million in prize money.
"NASA's Centennial Challenges competitions engage teams from across the country to solve the technology hurdles NASA faces as we explore new frontiers," said agency spokesman Mike Gazarik. "We're looking forward to teams registering to compete, so they can unleash their creative problem-solvers to take on this robotic technology challenge."
The objective of the robotics competition is simple, but its execution is anything but. Robots will be tasked with autonomously locating and retrieving geologic samples across a challenging array of terrain. The lessons learned from this event may have important implications for robotic manipulation and automatic navigation capabilities. NASA already has plans to employ these features in exploratory missions throughout the Solar System.
Earlier this month, the government agency announced a $1.61 billion contract to companies aiding in the developing of a private "space taxi" program, according to Space.com.
"This is a significant step forward in America's amazing story of space exploration," NASA officials said. "It's further evidence we are committed to fully implementing our plan to outsource our space transportation so NASA can focus its energy and resources on deep space exploration."
But despite the space exploration theme surrounding the event, manufacturers can leverage the technology on display for a number of useful pursuits here on Earth as well.
Last month, military robotics researchers were keenly observing developments at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems annual North American conference in Washington, D.C. According to PhysOrg, the Office of Naval Research took the opportunity to debut its first fully autonomous robot in addition to an unmanned underwater vehicle. And just a few hundred miles to the north, U.S. Marines were testing a robotic truck on proving grounds just outside of Pittsburgh.
Robotics competitions such as the Sample Return Robot Challenge provide an important platform for a number of initiatives. First, by testing their knowledge and skills, engineers can refine their creation and gain insight from real-world feedback. Secondly, these events attract robotics stakeholders from all sectors, and the direct and indirect networking that occurs at these conferences is often capable of producing powerful and important collaboration within the industry.