Registration is open for the fourth running of the NASA Centennial Challenge program's Sample Return Robot Challenge, which will take place June 8-13, 2015. The autonomous robot competition, which carries a prize purse of $1.5 million, will be held at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts, which has hosted the event since 2012.
Teams must demonstrate a robot that can locate and collect geologic samples from a wide and varied landscape without human control in two levels of competition that increase in difficulty. The objective is to encourage innovations in autonomous navigation and robotic manipulator technologies. Innovations stemming from this challenge may improve NASA's capability to explore a variety of destinations in space, as well as enhance the nation's robotic technology for use in industries and applications on Earth.
"The teams' robots are growing more sophisticated each year," said Sam Ortega, program manager for Centennial Challenges at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. "It's exciting to watch them overcome the significant obstacles of this challenge and make giant leaps toward developing a new technology."
Since its inception, more than 20 teams from the United States and around the globe have competed in the event, nine of which were newcomers in 2014. Teams can have one or more members. In addition to teams representing universities, small businesses, families and groups of colleagues, the 2014 competition also saw its first high school team take the field.
At the inaugural competition event in 2012, no teams were awarded prize money because the challenge objectives were not met. During the 2013 competition, NASA awarded $5,000 to Team Survey of Los Angeles for completing Level 1 of the challenge. The West Virginia Mountaineers team from Morgantown was awarded $5,000 in 2014 for their completion of Level 1. Both Team Survey and the Mountaineers will be eligible to begin the 2015 competition in Level 2, bypassing Level 1 if they choose.
The Centennial Challenges program is part of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is building, testing and flying the technologies needed for the aerospace missions of tomorrow. The directorate continues to solicit the help of the best and brightest minds in academia, industry, and government to drive innovation and enable solutions in important technology thrust areas. These planned investments are addressing high priority challenges for achieving safe and affordable deep-space exploration.
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