The Challenge is On: Registration Opens for Robot Prize Competition

Media Contact
September 13, 2011

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NASA and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) are seeking teams to compete in a robot technology demonstration competition that offers a prize of $1.5 million to the winners.

During the Sample Return Robot Challenge, teams will compete to demonstrate a robot that can locate and retrieve geologic samples from a wide and varied terrain without human control. The objective of the competition is to encourage innovations in automatic 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 here on Earth.

"NASA's Centennial Challenges competitions engage teams from across the country to solve the technology hurdles NASA faces as we explore new frontiers," said Mike Gazarik, director of NASA's Space Technology Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "We're looking forward to teams registering to compete so they can unleash their creative problem-solvers to take on this robotic technology challenge."

NASA is providing the prize money to the winning team as part of the agency's Centennial Challenges competitions, which seek unconventional solutions to problems of interest to the agency and the nation. While NASA provides the prize purse, the competitions are managed by non-profit organizations that cover the cost of operations through commercial or private sponsorships. The competition is planned for June 2012 in Worcester, Mass., and is anticipated to attract hundreds of competitors from industry and academia nationwide. For more information about the Sample Return Robot Challenge, visit:

"WPI takes tremendous pride in being the first university selected by NASA as a partner for a Centennial Challenge," said WPI President and CEO Dennis D. Berkey. "This university is a hub of expertise and innovation within the area of robotics, and like NASA, we believe strongly in the promise of this industry. Accordingly, we have invested deeply in growing our programs and growing interest in the field among young people. We are looking forward to an exciting competition."

There have been 21 NASA Centennial Challenges competition events since 2005, and through this program NASA has awarded $4.5 million to 13 different challenge-winning teams. Competitors have included private companies, student groups and independent inventors working outside the traditional aerospace industry. Unlike contracts or grants, prizes are awarded only after solutions are successfully demonstrated. The Centennial Challenges program is part of NASA's Office of the Chief Technologist. For more information about NASA's Centennial Challenges and the Office of the Chief Technologist, visit:

WPI is currently the only university to offer bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in robotics engineering; in 2007 the university 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 WPI manages at least seven competitive robotics tournaments and has also 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. For two decades now, WPI has been a partner with the FIRST program, which was founded by alumnus Dean Kamen. Over the years, WPI has provided funding, training and workspace areas for FIRST teams, has led the creation of software platforms for teams, and has set the standard for high-class, low-cost off-season and regional tournaments. For more information about WPI, visit: