NASA's Space Robotics Challenge: The Tasks, the Prizes, and How to Participate - NEWS SENTRY


Thursday, 18 August 2016

NASA's Space Robotics Challenge: The Tasks, the Prizes, and How to Participate

Last year at the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals, NASA announced a new challenge for humanoid robots: the Space Robotics Challenge (SRC), which will “prepare robots for the journey to Mars.” Just like the DRC, the first stage of the SRC will consist of a virtual challenge, run in the Gazebo simulator, followed up by a physical challenge using NASA’s R5 Valkyrie robots.

NASA Space Robotics Challenge R5 Valkyrie humanoid robot

As of yesterday, NASA has opened registration for the SRC, and we’ll take a look at the format of the competition, the challenges that teams will need to complete, and what they can take home for winning. Anyone can enter the Challenge, although the Team Leader of each team must be a U.S. citizen. In order to win a prize (for NASA to give you taxpayer money, in other words), 51 percent of the team must be U.S. citizens, although if you’re a student at a U.S. university, that counts. It sounds like foreign teams can still enter and compete and win; they just won’t get any prize money for doing so. Bummer. Before the SRC itself, there’s a qualification round.

A simulated R5 will have to identify a pattern of colored lights blinking on a panel, push a button, and walk through a doorway without falling down. The 20 top scoring teams (based on speed and accuracy) will each get $15,000 and move on to the virtual competition itself, which will go something like this: After completing each task, R5 must walk into a finish area, which ends the run. NASA will impose bandwidth limitations (1-2 Mbps maximum), time limitations (30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the task), and a round trip latency of up to 20 seconds. Each task will be run five times by each team, and all runs will be slightly different, with tweaks to “the location of all objects in the environment, the starting position of the robot, the communications parameters (latency), contact friction properties, obstacle placement, object geometry, and other relevant parameters.” Scoring is based primarily on task completion, with each task consists of multiple subtasks.

The more subtasks you manage to do in a row without stopping, the more points you get. The first subtask you complete is worth 1 point, the second is worth 2 points, and so on. This value increase continues from task to task, so if you make it from Task 1 (four subtasks) to Task 2 in a single shot, that first subtask in Task 2 is worth five points instead of one. Skipping a subtask or asking for a reset will knock the subtask point counter back down to zero. Time is only taken into account if there’s a tie on points. The winner of the SRC Virtual Challenge gets $125,000, with $100,000 going to second place, $50,000 to third, and $25,000 to fourth. Additionally, as many as six teams can take home a $50,000 bonus for completing all 18 subtasks consecutively within one single run: a perfect run, in other words. The top four teams will also be awarded “a code implementation partnership with an R5 Host Team for a time period of at least two weeks.” We’re assuming this means that if you prove that you know what you’re doing in the

Virtual Challenge, NASA will let you try your software out on one of the handful of real Valkyries at robotics labs in the U.S. and Europe. Registration for the challenge is open now, and will remain open for one month, until September 16. The qualification software will be released on September 19, with qualification ending November 15. The final teams will be selected on December 1. The SRC Virtual Competition itself will run June 13 to 16, 2017, and we’ll know who won on June 30.

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