NASA and Worcester Polytechnic Institute Partner Again for Two Levels of Competition as the 2016 Sample Return Robot Centennial Challenge Expands

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For the fifth consecutive year teams from across the globe will test their autonomous robot retrieval skills at WPI.

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For the fifth year in a row, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and NASA will team up in pursuit of new technological solutions for America’s space program and for planet Earth. Registrations are now being accepted for the $1.5 million 2016 Sample Return Robot (SRR) Challenge. New to this year’s SRR Challenge competition is an extra time provision for teams who successfully complete Level 1, which is slated for June 7-11 at WPI. Those teams will be given approximately 12 weeks to make adjustments to their robots before returning to WPI for the Level 2 competition, which will be held Sept. 1-5.

Teams from around the world are invited to come to WPI and demonstrate an autonomous robot that can navigate and collect samples at two levels of difficulty. Registration is open to anyone; past participants have included industry groups, academic teams, hobbyists, aspiring technologists, and others.

NASA is providing the prize money as part of the agency’s Centennial Challenges competitions, which seek innovative solutions to problems of interest to the agency and the nation. While NASA provides the prize purse, this competition is managed by WPI. Through the Centennial Challenges competition model, nonprofit organizations cover the cost of operations through commercial or private sponsorships. Prizes are awarded only when solutions are successfully demonstrated.

“We are fortunate to once again partner with WPI for this advanced robotics competition, which has seen exciting progress each year,” said Centennial Challenge program manager Monsi Roman. “The robotics advances sought through this competition will have endless utility within NASA and commercially. These teams have shown, year after year, that they are determined to bring new and innovative technologies, and hopefully this year we’ll see a big winner.”

Earlier this year, NASA awarded $100,000 to a team of competitors from West Virginia University who successfully completed one portion of Level 2 of the SRR Challenge. In 2013, NASA also awarded $5,000 to Team Survey of Los Angeles for successfully completing Level 1. NASA expects the 2016 event will advance the progress of the competition and include new, as well as returning, competitors.

“We are thrilled to team up again with NASA for this competition”, said WPI President Laurie Leshin, who previously served as a senior leader in NASA’s science and human space flight programs. “It has been exciting to watch the Centennial Challenge competitions continue to spur innovation in robotic rover technology and future NASA exploration. Every year, the competing teams demonstrate true maker spirit and dedication to discovery, which are values shared by both NASA and WPI.”

“Making advances in autonomous robots is not only important for space exploration but it also has viable applications here on Earth in areas like search and rescue,” said Colleen Shaver, assistant director, WPI Robotics Resource Center. “With WPI’s extensive programs in robotics engineering, long-term support of robotics competitions, and its location in the heart of the robotics industry, Worcester is the ideal place for these teams to gather and showcase their creations.”

In addition to participating in national competitions, WPI’s Robotics Resource Center supports robotics projects, teams, events, and K-12 outreach programs. Each year, WPI manages at least seven competitive robotics tournaments. The university also has sponsored programs that foster the use of robots to solve important societal problems and encourage consideration of the societal implications of this new area of technology.

WPI was the first university in the United States to offer bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in robotics engineering. In 2007 it was the first in the nation to offer a bachelor’s degree program in this area.

The Centennial Challenges program is part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is innovating, developing, testing, and flying hardware for use in NASA's future missions. For more information about NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, visit http://www.nasa.gov/spacetech.

For more information, including how to register a team for the 2016 Sample Return Robot Challenge, visit the Team Registration page at http://wp.wpi.edu/challenge.

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