NASA’s Next Sample Return Robot Challenge Open For Registration

The Army of Angry Robots team robot is seen as it attempts the level one challenge at the 2015 Sample Return Robot Challenge. Image Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

The Army of Angry Robots team robot is seen as it attempts the level one challenge at the 2015 Sample Return Robot Challenge. Image Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

October 22, 2015 – Registration is open for the fifth running of NASA Centennial Challenges’ Sample Return Robot Challenge, which will take place in June and September 2016.

To win a share of the $1.5 million prize purse, teams must demonstrate an autonomous robot that can navigate and collect samples in two levels of difficulty. It will be held at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, Massachusetts, which has hosted the event each year since 2012.

“We are fortunate to once again partner with WPI for this advanced robotics competition, which has seen exciting progress each year,” said Centennial Challenges 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.”

The teams must demonstrate a robot that can locate and collect geologic samples from a wide and varied landscape without human control. The objective is to encourage innovations in autonomous navigation and robotic manipulator technologies. Innovations stemming from this challenge may 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.

“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.”

Level 1 of the competition, scheduled for June 6-11, 2016, requires teams to locate a pre-cached sample in a 30-minute time frame and return it to the starting platform, for a prize of $5,000. In Level 2, scheduled for September 1-5, 2016, teams have two hours to retrieve the pre-cached sample and as many unknown samples (worth varying point amounts) as possible. Points earned at this level will determine prize money awarded.

More than 30 teams from the United States and around the globe have competed in the event since 2012. Teams have included universities, high schools, small businesses, individuals, families and groups of colleagues.

At the inaugural competition event in 2012, no teams were awarded prize money. In 2013, NASA awarded $5,000 to Team Survey of Los Angeles for completing Level 1 of the challenge. The West Virginia University (WVU) Mountaineers of Morgantown were awarded $5,000 in 2014 for their completion of Level 1, and $100,000 in 2015 for points earned during Level 2. Survey and WVU will be eligible to begin at Level 2 in 2016. All other teams must complete Level 1 to advance to Level 2. There is $1.39 million remaining to be won.

The Centennial Challenges Program is managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and is part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

For more information about the competition, visit: