NASA awarded a total of $ 535,000 to seven teams that took part in the agency’s Space Robotics Challenge. The teams developed code to help advance advanced autonomous robotics for future space exploration missions.
This last round of the challenge opened in January. Each team was led by an American citizen, a condition of eligibility for the competition. The teams coordinated and coded various robotic systems in a virtual and simulated lunar environment. Virtual robots had to locate, collect and transport resources to their “home base” on the Moon, all without human interference. A panel of subject matter experts from NASA and industry rated each team based on the number of assets the autonomous robots identified, excavated, and delivered to their targeted base.
The seven winning teams in order of prize classification are:
Olympus Mons, a team of individuals in Barcelona, ââSpain ($ 185,000)
Robotika in Space, a team of individuals in Annapolis, Maryland ($ 125,000)
Team Adelaide, a team of students and professors from the University of Adelaide in Australia ($ 75,000)
Walk Softly, a solo competitor in Niskayuna, New York ($ 50,000)
Whalers, a team of individuals in Nantucket, Massachusetts ($ 40,000)
Team Mountaineers, a team of students and faculty from the University of West Virginia at Morgantown ($ 30,000)
Future Robotics Lab, a team of people in Franklin, NC ($ 30,000)
The winning teams came up with different approaches to meet the challenge. Strategies included deploying spiral and zigzag search patterns, enabling multi-robot communications, leveraging sunlight for power, and coordinating robots working nearby.
The Olympus Mons first-place team focused on collecting material from the lunar surface while ensuring the integrity of their rovers throughout the operation. They assembled a team of six rovers to search the simulated area, dig and transport materials. The team’s strategy used a central system to coordinate the efforts of individual rovers and make high-level decisions. This allowed the rovers to focus on a specific subset of tasks.
Robotika in Space, the second-place team, built two independent trios of robots, each consisting of a scout, excavator, and transporter. Each group of robots explored and dug half of the simulated surface, moving in a semicircle to locate resources. Once the scout located the resources, he signaled the robot excavators and transporters to collect and transport the materials.
The Adelaide team took third place by developing two scouts, two excavators and two dumpers. They separated the six robots into two independent teams. Each team was responsible for processing half of the simulated lunar surface. Scout robots followed a spiral pattern, followed by slower excavator and transporter robots. When the scout detected resources, the robot excavators and transporters obtained and moved the resources.
âAutonomous robotic systems like those developed for this challenge could help future astronauts on long duration surface missions, allowing humans to focus on the most meticulous areas of exploration,â said Monsi Roman, program manager. NASA Centennial Challenges.
Phase 1 of the challenge, completed in June 2017, focused on NASA’s R5 humanoid robot operating in a virtual Martian environment. It consisted of two challenge rounds and tasked the contestants with advancing the dexterity of the humanoid robots so that the robots could work better alongside, even without, the astronauts.
Phase 2 also included two events: qualification and final competition. During the qualifying round, the teams were given three distinct tasks of using in situ resources to accomplish in a simulated lunar environment. Of the 114 teams entered, 22 qualified for the final, where they relied on their software to demonstrate autonomous operations on an ongoing mission.
The Space Robotics Challenge is supported by subject matter experts at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The competition is a Centennial Challenge and is part of the Prizes, Challenges and Crowdsourcing program within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. Centennial Challenges, managed at the Marshall Space Flight Center, bridges the innovation gap between NASA and the nation by stimulating research and technological solutions inside and outside the traditional aerospace community.
Editor’s Note: Taylor Goodwin, an LSINC employee, supports Marshall’s office of strategic analysis and communications.