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NASA opens contest for virtual robot to repair simulated Mars habitat

$1 million prize offered for design of robot that could assist efforts to send humans to Mars. Credit: NASA

NASA’s Centennial Challenge program is holding a contest for the development of a virtual humanoid robot that can successfully address a series of crises in a virtual Mars habitat.

The contest is being co-sponsored by Space Center Houston and innovation consultant group NineSigma.

A prize of $1 million will be awarded to the winning team following the contest’s final round in June 2017.

The space agency is seeking a virtual robot based on its Robonaut 5, also known as Valkyrie. Software developed by teams taking part in the contest will be used with Robonaut 5 and with its predecessors, including Robonaut 2, which is currently on board the International Space Station (ISS).

Virtual humanoid robots created by participating teams must complete a series of tasks to repair an astronaut habitat on Mars following damage from a dust storm.

The repair will require plugging a habitat leak, fixing an array of solar panels, and aligning a communications dish. All work will be done under simulation of the real communications delay time between Earth and Mars.

“Precise and dexterous robotics, able to work with a communications delay, could be used in spaceflight and ground missions to Mars and elsewhere for hazardous and complicated tasks, which will be crucial to support our astronauts,” said Monsi Roman, manager of NASA’s Centennial Challenges program.

“NASA and our partners are confident that the public will rise to this challenge, and are excited to see what innovative technologies will be produced.”

The Centennial Challenges program holds competitions as a means of encouraging innovation and new technological advances aimed at improving spaceflight.

Humanoid robots could pave the way for human space exploration by assisting on interplanetary journeys and conducting scientific research in advance of visits by astronauts.

They could also prepare habitats in advance of human settlers and maintain them once the astronauts have departed.

Finalists in this contest will be chosen from entries submitted in a qualifying round between September and November.

Anyone interested in taking part in the contest should visit http://www.nasa.gov/spacebot/ for registration and participation details.

Laurel Kornfeld

Laurel Kornfeld

Staff Writer
Laurel Kornfeld is a freelance writer and amateur astronomer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science in astronomy from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program.
About Laurel Kornfeld (1015 Articles)
Laurel Kornfeld is a freelance writer and amateur astronomer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science in astronomy from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program.