Building homes on Mars and interplanetary travel are no longer the stuff of science fiction; the latest achievements in robotics are putting these dreams within our reach. Today, the science and space learning center Space Center Houston, innovation firm NineSigma and NASA's Centennial Challenges Program announced the launch of the Space Robotics Challenge. The $1 million challenge will help further space exploration while inspiring the next generation of scientists.
The Space Robotics Challenge is part of the NASA Centennial Challenges Program, which was created to further NASA's journey to Mars while helping America maintain its technology leadership. It focuses on developing software to increase the autonomy of dexterous mobile robots, including NASA's humanoid Robonaut 5 (also known as Valkyrie), either in transit or on other planets. Competitors will be challenged to program R5 to perform "representative tasks" such as exiting a habitat airlock hatch, using a ladder to reach the surface, repairing a tire on a planetary rover and removing a power cable from storage and attaching it to a far-away connector, all while crossing irregular terrain.
"The Space Robotics Challenge will engage all generations through innovative robotic design," said Space Center Houston's President and CEO William T. Harris. "As the need for advanced technology continues to grow, this challenge will expand the global effort to accelerate our robotic capabilities for space exploration."
Registration for the Space Robotics Challenge begins today, with a qualifying round running from mid-September to mid-November. Finalists of that round will be announced in December and will engage in open practice from January to early June 2017. The final virtual competition will be held in June 2017, and winners will be announced at the end of June at Space Center Houston.
"Citizen scientists," independent teams, research organizations and private companies are invited to submit proposals through NineSigma's Open Innovation community at www.NineSights.com. Challenge participants will vie for a prize pool of up to $900,000 and winners will receive funding to continue research and discovery. Space Center Houston also will manage a complementary challenge program for kindergarten through 12th grades and undergraduate students with a prize pool of up to $100,000.
"Expanding the abilities of humanoid robots is critical for advancing human colonization of Mars, and for making life easier and better on our own planet," said NineSigma CEO Dr. Andy Zynga. "We are thrilled to help NASA reach out to experts with software development capabilities to move us closer to these goals."
NineSigma, which has worked with NASA on other prize-based challenges, specializes in open innovation and helps organizations tap into a community of scientific and technical experts who have developed technologies that are ready to be incorporated into groundbreaking solutions.