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NASA is Crowd Sourcing for Robots to be Deployed on Mars

May 18, 2016 07:56 AM EDT

Space missions tend to get too risky for men, although men's contribution to space exploration cannot be denied, it is also a fact that robotics can play a big role in space science.

This is why NASA wanted to encourage AI specialists, especially college students, to contribute their robotics knowledge to the agency. In turn, NASA will fund the best concepts to be used in their Journey to Mars.

In the Mars mission, men would need all the help they can get in gathering facts and performing risky activities on the surface of the red planet. And to find the best robotic technology for the mission, NASA launched the 7th Annual NASA Robotic Mining Competition (RMC).


The RMC is "set up for college students to design and build a mining robot that can travel over a simulated Martian surface, excavate regolith - or Mars dirt - and deposit as much of it as possible into a bin, all within 10 minutes" said Amanda Griffin of the Kennedy Space Center, in a statement.

In the competition, students can join and present their robotics technology, NASA wanted to see those which can be controlled from a remote distance. NASA also requires that the only line of site between the controller and the robot is a computer screen. A completely autonomous robot is also preferred, which can be programmed with specific commands.

NASA is crowd sourcing ideas from college students to increase their fleet who are bound for Mars. At the same time, they want to give college inventors a chance to present their ideas and eventually receive funding from the agency.

The competition will end on May 20th at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. The robotic technology required for the competition should focus on the extraction of consumables, such as oxygen and water, to support human life on Mars. Mining materials is one of the technologies being developed to save on transportation costs.

NASA is surprised on how many robotics technologies are out there waiting to be funded and developed.

"While it takes about one year to fully develop a mining robot in a research lab, RMC showcases 50 Martian mining prototypes in just one week," said Rob Mueller, a senior technologist in the NASA Kennedy Space Center Swamp Works and head judge and co-founder of the Robotic Mining Competition.

Although collecting Martian dirt or regolith is a daunting task, NASA believes that they can improve the winning technology to be chosen.

"The unique physical properties of basaltic regolith on Mars and the reduced, one-third gravity make excavation a difficult technical challenge" added Griffin.

NASA has been benefiting from crowd sourcing ideas ever since. It can lead to further enhancement of current technologies being used by the agency.

"By watching the various wheel and track designs perform, we have been able to determine that, in general, larger diameter and wider wheels are more reliable - and that has been a factor in selecting wheels for our latest prototype, RASSOR 2.0" said Drew Smith, NASA lead design engineer for RASSORA.

Everyone can follow the competition at this website.


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