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NASA wants your help developing autonomous robots to explore other worlds

NASA is asking for your help to create the autonomous robots which could one day explore the moon, Mars, and beyond. It has launched the second phase of its Space Robotics Challenge, searching for bright ideas from the public to develop robots to assist future astronauts on long-duration missions.

The challenge invites independent teams, research organizations, private companies, and tech enthusiasts to submit their ideas for autonomous robots which could operate on other planets or moons. The first phase of the competition was to develop software which improved the autonomous capabilities of NASA’s Valkyrie humanoid robot, which was won by the Coordinated Robotics team from California in 2017. The second phase of the competition, which has just opened, challenges participants to develop software for decision-making and navigation for a team of virtual robots. Top scoring teams in the challenge will be awarded prizes from a total $375,000 purse.

“We believe the public has ideas that can help us advance the state-of-the-art in autonomous robotic operations on planetary surfaces,” Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, said in a statement. “The first phase of this competition demonstrated teams could create sophisticated autonomous software, and this second phase will push teams to pair those capabilities with tasks that will be critical to exploring the Moon and Mars.”

One of NASA’s existing robots, RoboSimian, which can walk on four legs, crawl, move like an inchworm and slide on its belly. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Everyday explorers now have the opportunity to design useful solutions to support deep space exploration,” Daniel Newmyer, vice president of education, Space Center Houston, said in another statement. “This challenge will continue to advance robotic technology and research that is vital to future missions.”

The competition is part of NASA’s Centennial Challenges, which aim to get the public involved in the process of technological development for advanced space systems. Previous challenges in the project include a 3D-printed habitat challenge to create housing for Mars and other deep space exploration projects, and the Cube Quest challenge to design and build miniature satellites which can operate around the moon.

The Space Robotics Challenge Phase 2 is open now, and will run until December. To submit a proposal, head to the Space Center website. The qualification round will run from March 2020 until August 2020, with the competition round running from December 2020 to June 2021. Winners will be announced in September 2021.

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