NASA Swarmathon: Seeking College Teams For Virtual Robotics Competition


The NASA Swarmathon is now accepting applications for the 2017 NASA Swarmathon Virtual Competition. The NASA Swarmathon is a challenge to develop cooperative robotics to revolutionize space exploration.

The Swarmathon Virtual Competition will challenge students to develop search algorithms for robotic swarms, and these algorithms will be tested by competition organizers in a virtual environment. Winners will be announced at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in April 2017.

All teams selected for the Virtual Competition will receive: a $500 stipend for the faculty mentor; training via webinars, videos, and guides; access to technical forums to post questions and receive answers, and the chance to compete for cash prizes up to $3,000 depending upon how your team places.

Swarmies are small robotic vehicles measuring approximately 30 cm x 20 cm x 20 cm. Each Swarmie is equipped with sensors, a webcam, GPS system, and Wi-Fi antenna. They operate autonomously and can be programmed to communicate and interact as a collective swarm.

The Swarmies were designed through a collaboration between the Moses Biological Computation Lab at UNM and NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Swamp Works Facility. At UNM, Dr. Melanie Moses and her students studied the behaviors of ants foraging for food.

Successful exploration of the Moon, Mars, and asteroids requires the location and retrieval of local resources on extraplanetary surfaces. Technologies are needed to find and collect materials such as ice (convertible into liquid water, hydrogen fuel and oxygen to support human life) and rocks, minerals and construction materials to build human shelters. This is referred to as In-situ resource utilization (ISRU). Swarmies present the potential to dramatically improve the ability for robots to efficiently locate, identify and collect resources over large and previously explored territory and further ISRU efforts.

The goal of the NASA Swarmathon competition is to develop integrated robotic platforms that improve resource retrieval rates by 2–4 fold, compared to the same number of robots operating without cooperation, and orders of magnitude faster than solitary robots.

Swarmathon participation will (1) improve students’ skills in robotics and computer science and (2) further advance technologies related to future NASA space exploration missions. The deadline for applications is September 30, 2016.

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