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Photo by NASA/Bill Ingalls: A NASA 2013 Sample Return Robot Challenge staff member raises a pause flag as the robot attempts level one on June 5, 2013, at WPI.
Tuesday, June 10, 2014

NASA autonomous moon robot challenge returning to WPI

Eighteen teams of citizen inventors from several countries (although not New Hampshire) will compete in the 2014 NASA Centennial Challenges Sample Return Robot Challenge June 11-13 at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, Mass. Prize money of nearly $1.5 million is on the line in this third running of the challenge.

The teams must demonstrate a robot that can locate and collect geologic samples from a wide and varied landscape without human control. NASA's Centennial Challenges program does not award funds to competitors unless the challenge objectives have been met.

At the 2013 competition, NASA awarded $5,000 to Team Survey of Los Angeles for completing Level 1 of the challenge. Each team must complete two levels of competition. For a robot to successfully complete Level 1, one undamaged, pre-cached sample must be autonomously returned to the starting platform within the 30-minute time limit. Only teams who complete Level 1 will be given an opportunity to compete in Level 2. To successfully complete Level 2, a robot must autonomously return at least two undamaged samples, including the pre-cached sample, to their starting platform within the two-hour time limit.

While current Mars rovers are operated by humans at command centers on the ground, this competition calls for robots to operate completely autonomously," said Ken Stafford, director of the Robotics Resource Center at WPI. "That point alone makes this a remarkable competition and will tell us a lot about the future of space exploration." New England teams are AERO and Formicarum, both of Worcester.

The challenge begins June 11, with awards to be presented June 14. The Centennial Challenges are part of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate: