A team in the US has won a whopping USD 750,000 prize from NASA for designing a robot that can retrieve samples from challenging terrains, and could help the space agency explore surfaces of planets such as Mars in future missions.
After an intense robotics competition, the West Virginia University Mountaineers of Morgantown bagged the largest prize awarded in the five-year run of NASA’s Sample Return Robot Challenge. The Sample Return Robot Challenge, part of NASA’s Centennial Challenges Programme, aims to encourage innovation in robotics technologies relevant to space exploration and broader applications that benefit life on Earth.
The event brought together tech-savvy citizens, entrepreneurs, educators and students to demonstrate robots that can locate and collect geologic samples from a wide and varied landscape without human control and within a specified time.
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The competition, hosted by and held at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in the US concluded with an awards ceremony officiated by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and WPI President Laurie A Leshin, during which Dennis Andrucyk, deputy associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, presented the team with the prize check.
“West Virginia University has shown incredible ingenuity, creativity and team spirit throughout every stage of this
challenge,” said Andrucyk. “They were committed to advancing this technology, and we are proud to say that they have done it,” he said.
The challenge was the culmination of five years of competition that began in 2012, and drew more than 50 teams. The Mountaineers, who won USD 105,000 in prior competitions, earned the most points in Level 2, in which the final seven teams were challenged to autonomously search for and retrieve up to 10 samples without the aid of certain Earth-based technologies.
The competition field was a large park with challenging terrain, and the locations and physical characteristics of the
samples were unknown to the teams. To qualify for this event, teams had to first complete Level 1, returning a single sample in 30 minutes.
“These teams weren’t just working for cash prizes, they helped advance science and robotics, inspiring everyone who saw their hard work, imagination and excitement,” said Leshin.