NASA launches $1 million challenge to program space robots

Valkyrie will be programmed to autonomously perform a variety of tasks, with the ultimate goal of being used for future space missions to Mars and beyond. (photo credit: Jason Dorfman)

In the spring CSAIL received a six-foot-tall, 300-pound humanoid robot that NASA hopes to have serve on future space missions to Mars and beyond.

This week, NASA formally opened registration for its Space Robotics Challenge, which involves research teams programming Valkyrie for a variety of tasks in the hopes of winning a cut of NASA's $1 million prize.



From NASA:

The Space Robotics Challenge focuses on developing software to increase the autonomy of dexterous mobile robots—particularly those of humanoid format—so they can complete specific tasks during space travel or after landing on other planets (such as Mars), as well as on Earth.

Eventually, these robots will assist us with tasks such as:
    •    Deploying and preparing habitats, power systems and other infrastructure on Mars before humans arrive.
    •    Disaster relief and industrial plant maintenance on our own planet.


Overseeing the Valkyrie robot at CSAIL is professor Russ Tedrake, who previously led MIT's efforts as part of the DARPA Robotics Challenge.

Valkyrie is fully electric, with four body cameras, 28 torque-controlled joints, 44 degrees of freedom, and more than 200 individual sensors, including 38 on each hand (six on each palm, and eight along each of its four fingers).

Besides the CSAIL team, NASA also awarded a Valkyrie robot to Northeastern University in conjunction with the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.