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Student Competitions

Robots To Compete in NASA Challenge

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will hold its fourth annual Sample Return Robot Challenge June 8-13 at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, MA. In the competition, 20 teams from both the university and business community will demonstrate their robots' ability to locate and collect geologic samples from a large, varied landscape without human control.

There are two levels of competition, one in which a robot has 30 minutes to autonomously navigate and retrieve a pre-cached sample. At the second, more complex level, a robot must retrieve more samples from separate regions of the roving area with different types of terrain. The criteria for the second level will include the shortest amount of time to accomplish the tasks.

The competition's objective is to encourage innovations in autonomous navigation and robotic manipulator technologies.

"The teams' robots are growing more sophisticated each year," said Sam Ortega, program manager for Centennial Challenges at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. "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 have competed in the event, nine of which were newcomers in 2014. Last year's competition 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, and last year the West Virginia Mountaineers team from Morgantown, WV, was awarded $5,000 for its completion of Level 1. Both teams will be back this year to compete at Level 2.

About the Author

Michael Hart is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and the former executive editor of THE Journal.

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