NASA has announced its latest Centennial Challenge, called the Space Robotics Challenge, which will be conducted by the space agency, Space Center Houston, and NineSigma. For a cash prize of $1 million, contestants will be invited to program a virtual robot to do a series of tasks on the Martian surface. The scenario will involve a Martian dust storm having damaged a habitat on Mars, similar to what took place in the opening scenes in the movie “The Martian.” The virtual robot will be ordered to perform a number of tasks, including realigning a communications dish, fixing a solar array, and plugging a habitat air leak,

The virtual robot will be based on a real life humanoid robot that NASA has built called R5, dubbed Valkyrie.

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The robot has had some developmental problems, resulting in its failing the DARPA robotics challenge. The R5 has been loaned out to MIT and Northeast University to get its software refined so that it can safely operate in harsh environments, such as the surface of Mars.

Another robot, called R2, is currently being tested on the International Space Station.

NASA’s thinking regarding humanoid robots is that they would serve on future space missions as a member of the crew.  They would be used for hazardous tasks, such as EVAs which would include repairs of spacecraft and scout missions across a planet’s surface as well as mundane maintenance tasks, freeing up the human crew for other things.

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Humanoid reports would even go to the moon or Mars in advance, setting up habitats so that they can be ready for the astronauts when they go.

The registration for the Space Robotics Challenge starts August 16. A qualifying round will take place between mid-September and mid-November. The finalists will be announced in December. They will engage in practice rounds between January and June 2017. The final round will take place next June with the winner to be announced at the end of that month.

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Needless to say, programmable robots have applications on Earth, operating in combat zones, performing search and rescue missions, and cleaning up toxic spills and radiation leaks.

 

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