(PhysOrg.com) -- Nineteen teams pushed their robot competitors to the limit, and three teams claimed a total of $750,000 in NASA prizes at this year's Regolith Excavation Challenge on Oct. 18. This is the first time in the competition's three-year history that any team qualified for a cash prize, the largest NASA has awarded to date.
After two days of intense competition hosted at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., organizers conferred first place prize of $500,000 to Paul's Robotics of Worcester, Mass. Terra Engineering of Gardena, Calif., was a three-time returning competitor and was awarded second place prize of $150,000, and Team Braundo of Rancho Palos Verde, Calif., took the third place of $100,000 as a first-time competitor.
Competitors were required to use mobile, robotic digging machines capable of excavating at least 330 pounds of simulated moon dirt, known as regolith, and depositing it into a container in 30 minutes or less. The rules required the remotely controlled vehicles to contain their own power sources and weigh no more than 176 pounds.
The winning excavator lifted 1,103 pounds within the allotted time. Runners-up excavated 595 pounds and 580 pounds, respectively. Team E-REX of Little Rock, Ark., earned a special mention for transferring the most regolith in a single deposit -- 165 pounds.
"It's really encouraging that we saw three teams achieve the minimum requirements and shows that innovation is not only alive but growing," said Lynn Baroff, executive director of the California Space Education and Workforce Institute, who lead the panel of judges. "It's really great that through this competition NASA is actively seeking to recognize citizen inventors from across the nation whose ideas may one day contribute to space exploration."
Regolith is difficult to dig because its dust particles want to stick together. Judges recognized the winning teams achieved real technical accomplishments because the whole robotic system has to be sturdy enough to scoop moon dirt and powerful enough to move through the dust while still meeting the weight requirements.
"This was an incredibly tough competition, and teams came up with fantastic ideas, some of which might find use in future missions to the moon," said Greg Schmidt, deputy director of the NASA Lunar Science Institute at Ames. "It's great to have a winner this year. The biggest win is getting so many talented young people involved in NASA's mission of exploration."
"After three years, it's great to have three cash prize winners," said Andrea Seastrand, executive director at California Space Authority Inc. of Santa Maria. "Two of the winning teams were returning competitors and have learned through this challenge that there is no such thing as failure. It's great to see them rewarded for their determination, innovation and creativity."
The Centennial Challenges program in NASA's Innovative Partnerships Program Office sponsors the Regolith Excavation Challenge. The competition was co-hosted by the California Space Education and Workforce Institute and its sister organization the California Space Authority, in collaboration with the NASA Lunar Science Institute. Diani Building Corp. of Santa Maria, Calif., and Empirical Systems Aerospace, Pismo Beach, Calif., also supported the competition.
To watch videos, view images and get more information about the Regolith Excavation Challenge, visit: www.californiaspaceauthority.org/html/regolith2009.html
For more information about NASA's Centennial Challenges, visit: www.nasa.gov/offices/ipp/home
Provided by JPL/NASA (news : web)
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