NASA dangles ONE MILLION DOLLARS for virtual Mars robots

Devs challenged to train humanoid helper for red planet mission

NASA's R5 robot

NASA has announced a million-dollar prize it will award to whomsoever can program a virtual robot to get stuff done ahead of a crewed mission to Mars.

Contestants will work with is NASA's “Robonaut 5”, aka “Valkyrie”, an anthropomorphic robot that's already been used aboard the International Space Station. Those who enter the Space Robotics Challenge will be presented the following scenario:

“In the not too distant future, R5 as arrived on Mars along with supplies ahead of a human mission. Overnight a dust storm damaged the habitat and solar array, and caused the primary communication antenna to become misaligned. R5 must now repair an air leak in the habitat, deploy a new solar panel, and align the communication antenna.”

Requirements are stringent: for the antenna challenge “R5 will begin this task near a communication dish that is aligned incorrectly. R5 will be required to walk a short distance to the communication dish and locate two handles. One communication dish handle will adjust pitch and the other yaw.”

The solar panel gig requires Valkyrie to locate a solar panel, carry it by a handle, press a button and then find a power cable and plug it in.

The tasks are all time-limited and also have a bandwidth constraint of between one and two megabits per second. Which is of course more than lots of people gets from broabdand services!

NASA's rules (PDF) are silent on the technical details of the virtual environment on offer, but those who enter the competition will be given early access to a test arena in which to put their virtual 'bots through their paces.

To enter, your team will need to comprise “at least 51% citizens or permanent residents of the United States, or an entity that is incorporated in and maintains a primary place of business in the United States.” ®


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