Estonian robotics enthusiasts have so far been the most successful out of 11 teams competing in a NASA competition that organizers hope will yield innovative ideas for developing robots that can collect research samples on other planets, independently of human control.
The Estonian team, including Ahti Heinla, one of the original developers of Skype, was one of two non-US teams taking part in the three-day contest, held at a park at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. The first mission was to have the robots find and retrieve a 3-inch-tall cylinder about 75 yards away from a starting platform within a 30-minute time limit.
“So far, Estonia’s robot has been the most successful,” NASA's Sam Ortega told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, a local newspaper, on Wednesday. It rode around the park, he said, but “just couldn’t get the item.”
On Wednesday, the first day, none of the robots had succeeded. One of the robots, built by the Worcester Polytechnic Institute team, couldn't make it off the platform and was eliminated from the contest.
The event, held from June 5 to 7, has a 1.5-million-dollar prize, although non-US participants are not eligible for it.
It is the second time the Sample Robot Return competition is being held. Eleven teams were initially registered last year, but only one ended up qualifying to participate. The team was not successful and the prize was not awarded.
"Last year, teams were finding their footing and tweaking their designs. This year, we have several teams that know what they're up against and they can't wait to get back on the field," Ortega said in a NASA press release last week.
“Innovations stemming from the challenge could improve NASA's capability to explore a variety of destinations in space, as well as enhance the nation's robotic technology for use in industries and applications on Earth," he said.