TouchTomorrow: WPI's Festival of Science, Technology, and Robots To Be Held Saturday, June 14

Third Annual Event to Feature Dozens of Hands-On Space and Technological Exhibits; NASA Sample Return Robot Challenge starts today
June 11, 2014

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For the third consecutive year, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) is bringing the future to life this weekend, and New England’s families can join in the fun.

TouchTomorrow, now in its third year, is a free event to be held on the WPI campus on Saturday, June 14, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event is composed of hands-on exhibits and activities focused on our scientific and technological future. The activities and exhibits are designed to be enjoyed by all ages, with an emphasis on inspiring children and young adults to see how thrilling and fun science and technology can be.

TouchTomorrow follows the NASA Sample Return Robot (SRR) Challenge, a Centennial Challenge competition that starts June 11 in Institute Park. Also in its third year at WPI, the competition – held over three days leading up to the festival – brings a prize purse of $1.5 million. The SRR Challenge calls for teams of roboticists to build, program, and demonstrate robots that can locate and retrieve geologic samples from a wide and varied terrain— without human control.

"The TouchTomorrow festival and the SRR Challenge bring two of my greatest passions together on WPI's campus – innovative approaches to space exploration, and advancing science and technology education," said WPI President Laurie Leshin, who joined the university on June 1 and has also served as director of science and exploration at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "The Centennial Challenge will bring talented competitors to Worcester, and the slate of events at the TouchTomorrow festival allows young people, their families, and their teachers to engage in the thrill of exploration and discovery. I am excited to welcome everyone to our campus to experience first-hand how we can make the world better with science, engineering, and technology."

WPI is the first university that NASA has partnered with to manage a Centennial Challenge, and the SRR Challenge is the first of these competitions to be held east of the Mississippi. Eighteen teams from across the United States and abroad are coming to WPI in hopes that their robots will maneuver a difficult course and obtain the cached samples successfully.

Of the 18 registered teams, 14 teams are competing for prize money: Survey of Los Angeles; Wunderkammer Laboratory of Topanga, Calif.; Intrepid Systems of Lynnwood, Wash.; Fetch of Alexandria, Va.; Middleman of Dunedin, Fla.; UCSC Autonomous Rover Team of Santa Cruz, Calif.; Cephal of Pittsburgh, Pa.; Formicarum of Worcester, Mass.; University of West Virginia Mountaineers; Oregon State University Mars Rover Team; The Retrievers of Schenectady, N.Y.; RPI Rock Raiders of Troy, N.Y.; Stellar Automation Systems of Marietta, Ga.; and the Sourcerors of Pennsylvania.

Additionally, four demonstration-only teams are WPI's Team AERO, Kuukulgur of Estonia, Lunambotics of Mexico, and the University of Waterloo Canada.

People can watch the SRR Challenge via live stream at

TouchTomorrow attendees can participate in a number of exciting outdoor and indoor exhibits and activities sponsored by groups such as NASA, WGBH Education, EcoTarium, Science from Scientists, and FIRST Robotics. Attendees can explore and engage research projects being conducted by WPI faculty and students. They can also meet Dr. Bernard A. Harris Jr., the first African-American to walk in space. The historic spacewalk occurred in 1995 during his flight on the space shuttle Discovery.

Among other activities, attendees can:

  • Investigate the lifecycle of a star
  • Play M&M math games
  • Take a photo in a NASA spacesuit
  • Learn about spacesuit design through vacuum chamber experiments
  • Learn about WPI research on human-robot interaction, surgical robots, inter-vehicular networking, unmanned aerial vehicles, biomechanics, intelligent tutors, and other cutting-edge fields
  • Take a “selfie” with WARNER, WPI’s tall, dark, and humanoid robot
  • See WPI student project work in robotics, renewable energy, assistive technology, game design, architectural engineering, and other areas
  • Make slime
  • "Kinect" with a NASA virtual robot
  • Take the paper airplane design challenge
  • Command the NASA Marcbot
  • See a model of the Mars Rover "Curiosity"
  • Check out WPI's NASA-sponsored research on heat transfer in space

NASA and the Sample Return Robot Challenge

NASA's Centennial Challenges were created to:

  •  Drive progress in aerospace technology of value to NASA's missions;
  • Encourage the participation of independent teams, individual inventors, student groups and private companies of all sizes in aerospace research and development; and
  • Find the most innovative solutions to technical challenges through competition and cooperation.

The Sample Return Robot (SRR) Challenge will require the 18 competing teams to design and build an autonomous robotic system that will locate and collect a set of specific sample types from a large area and then return the samples to the starting zone. The roving area will include a variety of terrains and hazards. A pre-cached sample and several other samples will be located in smaller sampling zones within the larger roving area. Teams will be given aerial/geological/topographic maps with appropriate orbital resolution, including the location of the starting position and a pre-cached sample.

  • A Level-1 prize will be awarded to the team whose robot autonomously navigates at all times and retrieves a pre-cached sample within the 30-minute time limit.
  • To win a Level-2 prize, a robot must autonomously navigate at all times and must retrieve the pre-cached sample and other samples distributed over the roving area within the two-hour time limit.
  • A total prize purse of $1.5 million is available from the Centennial Challenges Program.

NASA prize competitions establish an important goal without having to choose the approach or the team that is most likely to succeed, while only paying for results. NASA prize competitions also increase the number and diversity of individuals, organizations, and teams that are addressing a particular problem or challenge of national or international significance, while stimulating private sector investment that is many times greater than the cash value of the prize. Prizes also capture the public imagination and change people's perception of what is possible.

For more information about the NASA SRR Challenge, visit

Journalists and media representatives seeking additional information should contact Andy Baron at 508-831-5916,, or Eileen Brangan Mell at 508-831-6785,