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NASA Mars Rover Curiosity  (Source: tamutimes.tamu.edu)
The competition will be held June 16, where NASA will award prize money based on how well the robots complete phase two

NASA is holding a competition for the creation of autonomous rovers in Massachusetts next month, which will ideally be used for planetary missions in the future.

The competition, called the Sample Return Robot Challenge, will allow private and public teams to compete in a contest for the best autonomous robot for future space missions. NASA is spending $1.5 million total on the contest, which will be held at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts.

NASA is looking for a team that can create an unmanned, smaller robot that is approximately 1.5 cubic meters and 175 pounds. The winning robot must be able to explore many types of environments, search for specific items and collect them. However, the robot cannot use GPS or an internet connection because these kinds of systems are restricted to Earth. It also cannot use air-cooling or ultrasonic rangefinders because of the lack of air in other planetary environments.

Phase one of the challenge is to have each of the competing robots collect a sample within a quarter of an hour. When this task is successfully completed, robots can move on to phase two, where they are expected to collect 10 separate samples in just two hours and return them to a certain area.

There are currently 11 final teams that will compete. Some of the contenders include the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Waterloo, SpacePRIDE, and True Vision. All teams are U.S. and Canada-based.

NASA is ultimately looking for an autonomous rover that can be sent on planetary missions in the future to collect certain items in varied terrains.

Last May, NASA bid farewell to its Mars rover named Spirit, which spent six years exploring Mars before falling silent for an entire year and finally being put to rest. Later, in November 2011, NASA launched a new Mars rover called Curiosity to the Red Planet in an effort to continue exploring the Martian surface.

NASA rover Curiosity is a $2.5 billion nuclear-powered machine meant for the exploration of Mars in hopes of finding evidence of microscopic life. It is the size of a Mini Cooper, and about four times as heavy as the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers. Curiosity has a large robot arm, a weather station, a laser that can vaporize rocks at seven meters, a percussive drill, and 4.8kg of plutonium-238.

The competition will be held June 16, where NASA will award prize money based on how well the robots complete phase two.

Source: MSNBC





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