Last weekend, thanks to the ambition of undergraduate Paul Ventimiglia, the school earned national acclaim. Mr. Ventimigliaof Wayne, N.J., a 22-year-old robotics-engineering major at WPI, is the leader of the Worcester-based robotics team, Paul's Robotics, composed of WPI undergraduates, alumni and professors. On Oct. 18, the team won the $500,000 first-place prize at NASA's 2009 Regolith Excavation Challenge.
NASA has come up with is something it calls its Centennial Challenges. These are a series of prizes for technological achievement in areas such as beamed power, lunar landers and the extraction of oxygen from lunar regolith (the crushed rock that passes for soil on the moon). The point is to spur technological development using the twin lures of hard cash and the kudos of being officially recognized as cleverer than your peers.
Since 2006 the NASA Centennial Challenges have spurred development for initiatives such as lunar landers, regolith excavation and general aviation technology. The purses range from $200,000 to $2 million, and many prizes so far have been unclaimed because no entry has met the admittedly formidable challenges.
Eight teams competing in the 2008 Regolith Excavation Challenge came up short in winning the NASA purse of $750,000, but more determined to compete in a rematch for 2009.
Take a look at any construction project or surface mining operation here on Earth and likely there will be bulldozers, loaders, and trucks; all essential in excavating and building structures.
Four couch-sized contraptions, all clearly homebuilt, sit inside a cavernous building at the Santa Maria, California, fairgrounds.