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NASA's robot event challenges, robots, engineers

Sharon Gaudin | June 16, 2015
Despite robots that passed by, or even ran over, the objects they were searching for and others that never got off the starting platform, scientists said this week's NASA robotics event is pushing the technology forward.

"Sometimes it looks frustrating, and the teams are frustrated, but it actually went really well," said Colleen Shaver, assistant director of WPI's Robotics Research Center and manager of the NASA challenge. "We saw teams detecting samples, teams attempting to pick them up and in several cases actually collecting the sample. It's hard to see just how difficult it is to plan for the weather, like the sun, which can be aimed right into the camera. It's impressive to see how much the teams did today despite the variables."

She noted that some of the teams' robots didn't make it off the starting platform, including a team from MIT, because they were taken down by basic problems.

One Level 1 team whose robot made it off the starting platform and was headed toward its first object before it ran into trouble was made up of students from Schenectady High School in New York.

Unlike the other teams, which are from major universities or made up of professional engineers, the high school teammates worked on the project after school.

"It just shows that this challenge can reach anybody," said Shaver said. "Innovation can be done anywhere, whether it's high school kids or professional engineers. It's how you look at the problem and how much energy you're willing to put into it."

Ken Stafford, associate director of robotics engineering at WPI, noted that what the robotics teams were faced with doing in a short amount of time in the challenge, robots on Mars, for instance, might have a week or more to do.

"There's no rush on the moon or Mars," he added. "We can't give them that much time so this is actually much tougher than it would be in the real world."

 

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