A team of students and professors from a local college has made it into the final round of a NASA competition.
A dozen robotics students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts, along with their professors, are seeking to program virtual robots that can locate and extract valuable resources from the moon as part of the NASA-sponsored Space Robotics Challenge -- which is a part of NASA’s Centennial Challenges program.
The team that calls itself Capricorn -- one of 22 left in the competition, according to Robotics Engineering Professor Michael Gennert -- has spent hours working on software for a fleet of robots.
“The goal is to find resources on the moon, dig them up and bring them to a processing plant where they can be turned into useful stuff like oxygen, iron, steel, and so on," Gennert said.
Team Capricorn is continuing to design algorithms that could be used on NASA robots which could go to the moon or even Mars some day.
“It’s really exciting to face multiple, difficult problems that people actually see out there and might not have been solved,” said Ashay Aswale, a PhD student in robotics engineering who is serving as the project manager for Team Capricorn.
“The interesting part is that this mining technology can also be useful on the earth. Mining is becoming increasingly more difficult on the earth so having robots that can be sent and be autonomous, and can mine without the needs to endanger the life of people is very important,” said Carlo Pinciroli, assistant professor of robotics engineering.
Besides looking for resources, the team has also programed the virtual robots to do tasks like fixing satellites. So far, they’ve been awarded $15,000 for their work in the qualification round -- the maximum possible in that round.
“This technology, it's a great way to get students excited about a project, and get some visibility and also helped develop technologies that we hope NASA can use in the future,” Gennert said.
The competition is expected to end in July with the winner announced sometime in September.