Robonaut prepares for Mars

NASA has opened registration for its Space Robotics Challenge. This open competition aims to develop the capabilities of humanoid robots to help astronauts make an eventual journey to Mars.

The Space Robotics Challenge is a $1 million prize competition designed to push the boundaries of robotic dexterity. Teams must program a virtual robot, modelled after NASA’s Robonaut 5 (R5) robot (pictured), to complete a series of tasks in a simulation, which include periods of latency to represent communications delay from Earth to Mars.

As missions grow longer and more complex, robots like R5 could be used as precursor explorers that precede crewed missions, be used as crew helpers in space or as caretakers of assets left behind. Sturdy R5 technology could also benefit life on Earth by operating in dangerous or extreme environments.

“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, programme manager of NASA’s Centennial Challenges. “NASA and our partners are confident the public will rise to this challenge, and are excited to see what innovative technologies will be produced.”

The competition will be held in a virtual environment. Each team’s R5 will be challenged with resolving the aftermath of a dust storm that has damaged a Martian habitat. This involves three objectives: aligning a communications dish, repairing a solar array, and fixing a habitat leak.

Software developed through this challenge must be transferable across other robotics systems, allowing the technology produced to be used both with older robotics models, such as the Robonaut 2, and any future models developed.

Registration for the Space Robotics Challenge has already begun, with a qualifying round running until mid-December.

Author
Justin Cunningham

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