NASA and WPI to Power Up for the Fourth Year in a Row

Registration opens for the June 2015 Sample Return Robot Challenge
September 19, 2014

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In pursuit of new technological solutions for America's space program and the nation’s future, NASA and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) have opened registration for the $1.5 million 2015 Sample Return Robot (SRR) Challenge. Planned for June 8-13, 2015 at WPI, teams are expected come from across the nation and beyond to compete and to demonstrate that a robot can locate and retrieve geologic samples from wide and varied terrains without human controls. Registration is open to anyone. Past participants have included industry groups, academic teams, hobbyists, aspiring technologists, and others.

"The teams’ robots are growing more sophisticated each year,” said Sam Ortega, who manages the Centennial Challenges program for the agency at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. “It’s exciting to watch them overcome the significant obstacles of this challenge and make giant leaps developing a new technology."

NASA is providing the prize money as part of the agency's Centennial Challenges competitions, which seek inventive solutions to problems of interest to the agency and the nation. While NASA provides the prize purse, this competition will be 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 after solutions are successfully demonstrated.

Next June’s SRR Challenge will mark the fourth year that WPI and NASA have teamed up for this competition. Earlier this year, NASA awarded $5,000 to a team of first-time competitors from West Virginia University who successfully completed Level 1 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 2015 event will advance the progress of the competition and include new, as well as returning, American competitors.

WPI President Laurie Leshin, who spent six years as a senior executive leader at NASA and remains a member of the Mars Curiosity rover team, has firsthand understanding of the benefits of the Challenge competition.

"I’ve tracked the SRR Challenge from the beginning, and I’ve witnessed the power of this competition to drive innovation in our space program,” said Leshin. “The maker spirit and dedication to discovery shown by Challenge teams are values shared by both NASA and WPI. We are thrilled to partner with NASA in this competition once again. At WPI, we are inspired by the Challenge teams and are dedicated to continue to work with NASA to showcase the power and wonder of STEM."

There have been more than 20 NASA Centennial Challenges competitions since 2005, with NASA awarding more than $6 million to 17 different winning teams. Competitors include private companies, student groups, and independent inventors working outside the aerospace industry.

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 is one of the only universities 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. Through its Robotics Resource Center, WPI supports robotics projects, teams, events, and K-12 outreach programs. Each year it manages at least seven competitive robotics tournaments. WPI also offers 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.

Participants and spectators can expect Level 1 competition June 10 and 11 and Level 2 competition on June 12, weather permitting. All on-site teams will participate in event promotion, robot demonstration, and K-12 outreach on June 12 and 13.

For more information, including how to register a team for the 2015 Sample Return Robot Challenge, visit the Team Registration page.

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