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NASA Prizes for Builder and Flyer Robots

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the more-weapons-for-my-droid-army dept.

Space 74

FleaPlus writes "NASA has recently announced a couple more X-Prize-style Centennial Challenges. The first is a Telerobotic Construction Challenge, for using a team of robots to assemble structures from building blocks with minimal human intervention. The second is an Planetary Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Challenge, to create a robot which can fly a path using visual navigation and hit ground targets with a probe (no GPS allowed). Rules are still being finalized, with the contests scheduled for 2007. Both prizes are for $250,000, the max Congress is allowing NASA to offer."

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250K?!?!?! (2)

Punboy (737239) | more than 8 years ago | (#14172863)

These tasks are probably much more complex than the Ansari X prize... which rewarded 40 times this much. Offering $250K is insane. Stupid. Insanely Stupid.

Re:250K?!?!?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14173033)

Es war einmal eine süßes Kaninchen. Das Kaninchen hatte eine große Karotte. Es war eine besondere Karotte: wenn du ein Stück davon aßest, dann wuchs sie innerhalb weniger Minuten wieder nach. Das Kaninchen versteckte es in seinem Erdloch. Aber eines schönen Tages, als das Kaninchen zurück zu seinem Loch kam, war sie weg. Das Kaninchen erschrak und begann ein Loch zu graben. Es grub und grub bis es auf eine große Höhle stieß. Die Karotte liegt am anderen Ende der Höhle. Aber da war auch eine orangefarbene, versteinerte Kuh mit Flügeln.

Re:250K?!?!?! (3, Funny)

ichigo 2.0 (900288) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173330)

According to Babelfish:
It was once sweet rabbit. The rabbit had a large carrot. It was a special carrot: if you ate a piece of it, then she regenerated within fewer minutes again. The rabbit hid it in its earth hole. But a beautiful daily, when the rabbit came back to its hole, was it away. The rabbit frightened and began a hole to dig. It dug and dug to it on a large cave pushed. The carrot is because of the other end of the cave. But there was also an orange, petrified cow with wings.



Orange petrified cow with wings, indeed. :)

Re:250K?!?!?! (1)

blincoln (592401) | more than 8 years ago | (#14175586)

So the moral of the story is that every time you eat part of a carrot which appears to magically regenerate itself, you may in fact be contributing to the creation of a giant underground cavern and the death of a burrowing cow which is also capable of flight?

Now I know why Germans are so technically adept: apparently they instill advice about any possible situation - no matter how unlikely - in their children.

Consider the nature of the challenges (1)

Inspector Lopez (466767) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173779)

These tasks are probably much more complex than the Ansari X prize... which rewarded 40 times this much. Offering $250K is insane. Stupid. Insanely Stupid.

The size of the prize is only part of the interesting thing here.

Notice that that the X Prize http://www.xprizefoundation.com/about_us/mission.a sp [xprizefoundation.com] sponsored an interesting, significant step in manned space travel, whereas the NASA competitions specifically promote unmanned space travel technology. The DARPA Grand Challenge http://www.darpa.mil/grandchallenge [darpa.mil] was unmanned, too --- and the prize size (2M USD) was Ansari-class.

The NASA and DARPA approaches are likely to yield more science in the near term (although NASA has been starving science to pay for the Space Station, and DARPA is more interested in technology than science). Howevert, Ansari-style competitions are probably more likely to get you and me into space; or rather, to Mars, since if you're healthy and wealthy enough, the Russians can already get you into space for a few days.

Bahh... The problems are easy (1)

technoextreme (885694) | more than 8 years ago | (#14175125)

These tasks are probably much more complex than the Ansari X prize... which rewarded 40 times this much. Offering $250K is insane. Stupid. Insanely Stupid.
Nah the telerobotics competition is easy when you tend to think about the problem for a while. You have to remember that with the time delay from the earth to the moon it's still possible to control a vehicle via remote control. It's annoying but still not within the realm of doable. In fact the Russians did that with one of their probes.

Re:Bahh... The problems are easy (1)

n54 (807502) | more than 8 years ago | (#14175407)

I couldn't remember exactly which one it was and had too look it up so I might as well post it. Details on that probe (Lunokhod 1) here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunokhod_1 [wikipedia.org]

Private enterprises are the way to go (1)

MMaestro (585010) | more than 8 years ago | (#14175138)

The reason why the prize is so small is, in a nutshell, politics. Lets face it, the average politician barely knows more than the average citizen when it comes to space exploration, AI development or anything that requires a prototype. The net result is a government which lowers the value on science leaving private companies to pick up the pieces.

My experience with NASA (ex-employee) (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14172875)

have had enough of NASA! Let me cut to the chase: NASA's true goal is to promote group-think attitudes over individual insights. All the statements that its satraps make to justify or downplay that goal are only apologetics; they do nothing to stand as a witness in the divine court of the eternal judge and proclaim that I'd advise NASA to stop being so morbid. Listen up: If you've read any of the power-hungry slop that NASA has concocted, you'll undeniably recall NASA's description of its plan to make bargains with the devil. If you haven't read any of it, well, all you really need to know is that just the other day, some of NASA's unconscionable understrappers forced a prospectus into my hands as I walked past. The prospectus described NASA's blueprint for a world in which the most devious flimflammers you'll ever see are free to make foul evil-doers out to be something they're not. As I dropped the prospectus onto an overflowing wastebasket, I reflected upon the way that NASA keeps saying that people don't mind having their communities turned into war zones. Isn't that claim getting a little shopworn? I mean, its older ramblings were inaniloquent enough. Its latest ones are certainly beyond the pale. If I didn't sincerely believe that in plain language, NASA's reinterpretations of historic events bespeak a spiritual crassness, a materialistic and short-sighted stupidity that will emphasize the negative in our lives instead of accentuating the positive before you know it, then I wouldn't be writing this letter. Who is behind the decline of our civilization? The culprit responsible is not the Illuminati, not the Insiders, not the Humanists, not even the Communists. No, the decline of our civilization is attributable primarily to NASA.

Consider the issue of abominable mysticism. Everyone agrees that NASA seems to think that it is right and everybody else is wrong, but there are still some vulgar, sinful slobs out there who doubt that this is a frightening realization. To them I say: Nerdy menaces serve as the priests in NASA's cult of rotten, incorrigible militarism. These "priests" spend their days basking in NASA's reflected glory, pausing only when NASA instructs them to censor by caricature and preempt discussion by stereotype. What could be more doctrinaire? The most appealing theory has to do with the way that I once overheard it say something quite astonishing. Are you strapped in? It said that every featherless biped, regardless of intelligence, personal achievement, moral character, sense of responsibility, or sanity, should be given the power to reward those who knowingly or unknowingly play along with its belief systems while punishing those who oppose them. Can you believe that? At least its statement made me realize that we are observing the change in our society's philosophy and values from freedom and justice to corruption, decay, cynicism, and injustice. All of these "values" are artistically incorporated in one person: NASA. Knowledge is the key that unlocks the shackles of bondage. That's why it's important for you to know that NASA does, occasionally, make a valid point. But when it says that truth is whatever your grievance group says it is, that's where the facts end and the ludicrousness begins. One might conclude that NASA has refused to make a public apology for its eccentric apothegms. Alternatively, one might conclude that no group has done so much to eavesdrop on all classes of private conversations as NASA's surrogates. In either case, NASA's hypnopompic insights are a load of bunk. I use this delightfully pejorative term, "bunk" -- an alternative from the same page of my criminal-slang lexicon would serve just as well -- because there are two sorts of people in this world. There are those who marginalize me based on my gender, race, or religion, and there are those who weaken the critical links in its nexus of unctuous paternalism. NASA fits neatly into the former category, of course.

NASA, already oppressive with its blasphemous perversions, will perhaps be the ultimate exterminator of our human species -- if separate species we be -- for its reserve of unguessed horrors could never be borne by mortal brains if loosed upon the world. If you think that that's a frightening thought, then consider that I have nothing more to say on that issue. Of course, this sounds simple, but in reality, the real issue is simple: If its helots get their way, society as we know it will cease to exist. Judging by the generally querulous nature of NASA's subalterns, I can see that I find that I am embarrassed. Embarrassed that some people don't realize that NASA insists that the sun rises just for it. Sorry, NASA, but, with apologies to Gershwin, "it ain't necessarily so." I insist that NASA will definitely ridicule, parody, censor, and downgrade opposing ideas when you least expect it. I base this confident prediction on, among other things, the fact that the basal lie that underlies all of its crass expostulations is that the rest of us are an inferior group of people, fit only to be enslaved, beaten, and butchered at the whim of our betters. Translation: The kids on the playground are happy to surrender to the school bully. I doubt you need any help from me to identify the supreme idiocy of those views, but you should nevertheless be aware that I wish that one of the innumerable busybodies who are forever making "statistical studies" about nonsense would instead make a statistical study that means something. For example, I'd like to see a statistical study of NASA's capacity to learn the obvious. Also worthwhile would be a statistical study of how many rude, sadistic grizzlers realize that NASA's assistants have decided, behind closed doors and in closed sessions, to deface a social fabric that was already deteriorating. Or, to express that sentiment without all of the emotionally charged lingo, I can no longer get very excited about any revelation of NASA's hypocrisy or crookedness. It's what I've come to expect by now. NASA keeps telling everyone within earshot that favoritism is a be-all, end-all system that should be forcefully imposed upon us. I'm guessing that NASA read that on some Web site of dubious validity. More reliable sources generally indicate that I recently heard it tell a bunch of people that sinister, reprehensible monomaniacs have dramatically lower incidences of cancer, heart attacks, heart disease, and many other illnesses than the rest of us. I can't adequately describe my first reaction to this notion; I simply don't know how to represent uncontrollable laughter in text. I find NASA's views not only insalubrious but also vitriolic. And that's all I have to say.

Fixed prize limit? (3, Insightful)

Bombula (670389) | more than 8 years ago | (#14172880)

$250k is a not a whole lot of money. I'm not sure how many outfits would be able to get something out of the design stages without more money than that, so this prize would most likely not even cover costs.

That may not be the point, but it would sure be nice to at least have the development costs for projects like this covered by prize money.

Re:Fixed prize limit? (5, Interesting)

massivefoot (922746) | more than 8 years ago | (#14172900)

I think the unmanned aerial vehicle might be doable for that cost. I mean, the hard bit is the AI. Other than that you've just got a model aeroplane being controlled internally rather than be someone on the ground with a transmitter.

Of course you need to know how far it has to fly etc, but IMO it can't cost over £10k to build the airframe. The programme to fly it wouldn't be too hard either, the only hard part is that it needs to know where it is and what orientation it's in . Yhe latter is trivial - use a giro like any other aircraft would. The former could probably be done by taking either a stereo image from two cameras mounted on the wing tips, or useing some sort of downward looking radar, to create a 3D picture of the local terrain, which could then be matched to a map held in memory and a "best-fit" obtained.

Re:Fixed prize limit? (1)

Sparr0 (451780) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173223)

10k? I can build you a plane capable of carrying a 5 pound laptop and 4 cameras a hundred miles for under USD1000, as can any of a thousand other rc enthusiasts. Autonomous UAVs have been WELL within the realm of hobbyist flight for a decade, its just the AI that is missing.

Re:Fixed prize limit? (1)

massivefoot (922746) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173285)

Thanks for clarifying the cost there. I'm a pilot, but I have only a limited knowledge of RC aircraft. I'm interested by your claim of a 100 mile range, what sort of size would the aircraft be? Also, what would you be using for engines? I was under the impression that turbines for model aircraft cost several thousand pounds. Or do you think either glow/petrol driven props would be a better idea? Which would give the longest endurance? It might also be worth considering whether the cameras could work with the vibration from the engines, or whether it would be necessary to stop the engines every couple of minutes and take an image for position fixing (in which case would electric motors be the best choice?).

Re:Fixed prize limit? (2, Informative)

Skyfire (43587) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173841)

I do a fair amount of work with small UAVS (10-20 foot wingspan), and a 2-stroke powered propeller is definetely the way to go. Its been done for decades with success, its far more fuel efficient than small gas turbines (For subsonic speeds, all propulsion systems benefit from economies of scale. In general, the bigger the area of air being accelerated, the more efficient it is. Thats why the turbofans on modern airliners (B-777) are so large.), and parts are cheap and readily available. I question the ability to build a quality UAV to carry that much weight for that distance though. We are talking about 500$ for engine, minimum 5 servos x 80$ each, and that only gives you 100$ or so for the airframe. I would estimate for the basic airplane around 2000$ or less.

Re:Fixed prize limit? (1)

Sparr0 (451780) | more than 8 years ago | (#14176106)

For maximum efficient endurance I am not sure if I would go with gas or glow engines or electric motors. The advances in lithium polymer batteries recently have made ultra high endurance electric sailplanes a reality. Hour+ flight times at 30+mph on a here.

Re:Fixed prize limit? (1)

Sparr0 (451780) | more than 8 years ago | (#14176133)

(ignore immediately previous post, extraneous < ruined it.)

For maximum efficient endurance I am not sure if I would go with gas or glow engines or electric motors. Definitely not turbines. The advances in lithium polymer batteries recently have made ultra high endurance electric sailplanes a reality. Hour+ flight times at 30+mph on a plane with a 4-6' wingspan that costs under $200.

As to cameras, youll find that with a proper mount there is no need to shut down the engine except for the most high res of shots. Details on hobbyist aerial photography here [rcgroups.com] .

Re:Fixed prize limit? (0)

hazee (728152) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173284)

You're kidding, right?

Building a plane that can fly on another planet is so insanely difficult that NASA themselves gave up - they had wanted to fly a plane on Mars for the centenary of the Wright brothers' first flight.

Assuming the target planet is Mars; let's look at some of the challenges involved:

1) The atmosphere is *much* thinner. That's a fairly huge problem for starters. Maybe you could make the wings bigger, but how much? And if you do, they may respond in a completely different way to "normal" sized wings. What about control surfaces? Make them bigger too? Then they have more mass, and you need bigger actuators to turn them.

The atmosphere also affects propulsion. If the air's thinner, you need to either spin the prop faster, or have a bigger prop. There are limits to how fast you can spin a prop before all sorts of nasty things start to happen - such as the tips going supersonic. Again, making things bigger isn't necessarily the solution. And in case you're wondering, the same problems apply to jet engines - they need to achieve compression to work.

2) Gravity is significantly lower. Maybe that's a good thing, but it's also going to throw most earth-based flight models out. So you have to develop your own model from scratch. Not easy, or cheap.

3) This plane has to get to another planet in the first place. So you've got to pack your specially enlarged wings and engine into the nosecone of a spacecraft. Which means all sorts of size and weight restrictions. You know what you are saying about it being easy to throw together an airframe? Try doing it in under 1kg say. Good luck with that. And don't forget that fancy folding propellor...

4) Power? Not like you can just set 'er down and fill 'er up. In fact, you can probably forget landing at all. Not only do you need power for the engine, but also for all those scanners and radars, remember? If we're talking about "flight" as opposed to a "glide", then you're going to need significant amounts of power to keep it up there for any sensible length of time.

Granted, many of these problems would be alleviated somewhere like Venus - that's probably the most sensible place to try and fly a plane, but that still doesn't mean it's going to be easy.

And finally, have you noticed how even Earth-bound UAVs like the Predator tend to cost significant amounts of cash? It's not just because they were developed by greedy contractors.

Re:Fixed prize limit? (2, Informative)

massivefoot (922746) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173293)

Well their prize only requires that your plane fly on Earth. However, you've raised some interesting points, I suggest you go to www.x-plane.com and download the demo. It lets you fly on Mars (or at least the previous versions did, I assume the new one also does). There are two aircraft included in it that can fly on Mars, but they handle very oddly and you're right, you need huge wings.

Re:Fixed prize limit? (1)

hazee (728152) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173351)

I did find out shortly after I posted my original comment that this challenge only applied to Earth-bound planes, but in that case, what's the point? Even if someone won the contest, their plane would be useless on another planet.

Apart from all the mechanical aspects, it's doubtful that even any software would be useable, due to the fact that other planets look very different from Earth. For eaxmple, in terms of visual navigation - Mars is well, red - much less contrast. And Venus, well, good luck even seeing the ground from the air.

Re:Fixed prize limit? (2, Insightful)

xeoron (639412) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173458)

The point perhaps: To have a reasonable starting point, then there it is all about tweeking and evolving....

Re:Fixed prize limit? (1)

acaspis (799831) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173824)

To have a reasonable starting point, then there it is all about tweeking and evolving....

Better get the initial design right. The aeroplane didn't evolve into the helicopter. Sometimes there is a leap of irreducible complexi... errm... oh well forget it.

Re:Fixed prize limit? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14173378)

Granted, many of these problems would be alleviated somewhere like Venus - that's probably the most sensible place to try and fly a plane, but that still doesn't mean it's going to be easy.

I'd say that's impossible - the Russian Venera probes measured winds up to 300 km/h (200 mph) (sources: Venera [wikipedia.org] and Venus [wikipedia.org] ) and the probes could land without parachutes by simply falling since the atmosphere is 90 times that of the earth.

Re:Fixed prize limit? (1)

massivefoot (922746) | more than 8 years ago | (#14174084)

Wind doesn't affect the handling of an aircraft in flight unless it gusts (ie. a quick change in wind velocity), it only affects its navigation. And simply getting something onto the ground isn't really the point here, having an aircraft rather than parachutes gives you the option to exlore far more ground (or even deloy multiple probes over a wide area). In fact, the wind speeds on Venus could be a great advantage. As the pressure is ~90-100 times that of Earth's atmosphere, this would likely limit any aircraft to very low airspeeds, in which case flying "with" the wind would help enourmously in covering distance.

Re:Fixed prize limit? (2, Insightful)

acaspis (799831) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173424)

it can't cost over £10k to build the airframe

Extra points if your design scales to the low-density atmosphere of Mars, and can fly slow enough to do the probe thing.

the only hard part is that it needs to know where it is and what orientation it's in

Well, that pretty much sums up one of the most painful problems in robotics.

Yhe latter is trivial - use a giro like any other aircraft would

No. Gyros drift. Aircraft autopilots rely on other things, like radio beacons on the ground, or GPS. Or the sun.

The former could probably be done by taking either a stereo image from two cameras mounted on the wing tips

To get accurate 3D information out of this, you'd need to be flying pretty close to the ground.

or useing some sort of downward looking radar,

Yes, lookup "IFSARE". Good luck tracking your elevation data while flying over a flat plain or lake - then you need the visual clues too.

AC

Re:Fixed prize limit? (1)

massivefoot (922746) | more than 8 years ago | (#14174129)

You're right, giros do drift, but for some reason the attitude indicator giro in a light aircraft never seems to need reseting. The timescale such an aircraft flys over is long enough for drift to be significant (the directional giro does need realigning with a magnetic compass regularly), but the attitude giro does not. I've never been able to find a stisfactory explanation for this, anyone got one?

And no, a basic aircraft autopilot does not rely on radio beacons (the autopilot still works if the ADF, VOR etc. is unservicable), GPS (not certificated for aircraft navigation in the UK yet, don't know about the US) or the sun (a rather novel idea, but not much use at night).

I grant you radar would be pretty useless over a flat plane or lake, but then would visual cue really be any better?

Re:Fixed prize limit? (1)

acaspis (799831) | more than 8 years ago | (#14174349)

the attitude indicator giro in a light aircraft never seems to need reseting

So the artificial horizon does not need realigning, but the heading gyro does. Interesting. Are you really talking about a gyro-based attitude indicator ? Could it be that it aligns itself with gravity over long periods of time ? Or is it the old mechanical, floating sphere kind ?

or the sun (a rather novel idea, but not much use at night).

Not really the sun itself. But I believe infrared sensors have been used successfully to tell which way the sky is. Dunno whether it works at night.

AC

Re:Fixed prize limit? (1)

massivefoot (922746) | more than 8 years ago | (#14177977)

Yup, the attitude indicator is definately a gyro. It's usally a vacuum gyro, meaning it's spun up via a pump driven by the engine. Before engine start, it'll be giving a false reading in one of the corners (eg. most nose down, left bank reading it can give).

When the engine starts it'll wobble for a few seconds, then settle down to the correct reading. At this point you turn a small knob to make a small adjustment to the pitch indication (you're putting the "nose level" bar in the right place, not moving the gyro). It then requires no adjustment for the rest of the flight.

I agree this is very odd, and if anyone has a good technical explanation of how it works, I'd love to hear from you. And no, definately not a floating sphere, that would only tell you which way the local apparent gravity was acting. That can be dangerous, you can get into spiral dives in cloud thinking you're perfectly level.

Re:Fixed prize limit? (1)

autophile (640621) | more than 8 years ago | (#14174465)

I think the unmanned aerial vehicle might be doable for that cost. I mean, the hard bit is the AI. Other than that you've just got a model aeroplane being controlled internally rather than be someone on the ground with a transmitter.

Sure, but knowing NASA, you'll probably end up with something like this in the rules:

10.4.2.3.1 - Payloads.

10.4.2.3.1.1 - Size of Payloads.

Payloads may be no smaller than a cube one meter by one meter by one meter.

10.4.2.3.1.2 - Weight of Payloads.

Payloads may be no lighter than 300 (three hundred) kilograms.

--Rob

Re:Fixed prize limit? (3, Funny)

Somatic (888514) | more than 8 years ago | (#14172931)

Four words: Chief Knock-a-Homer [answers.com] .

Re:Fixed prize limit? (1)

bst82551 (912361) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173237)

Seems like maybe some of the larger companies looking for publicity might be interested, but other than that... probably nobody without an extremely high amount of funding.

Brian

Re:Fixed prize limit? (1)

stonefoz (901011) | more than 8 years ago | (#14175162)

how much does battlebots pay out? also monstergarage gives out a full set of mac tools for each winner with some other assorted stuff. doen't nasa have a larger budget?

Matching funds? (3, Insightful)

Bombula (670389) | more than 8 years ago | (#14172884)

Since the $250k limit is imposed by congress, maybe matching funds could be sought from private sponsors. Surely some of the big contractors like Boeing and those sorts of guys would be willing to put up some prize money if they might end up getting the big contracts to develop and build the real things?

Re:Matching funds? (1)

battjt (9342) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173633)

If you complete the contest, you will in all likelihood get some great job or contract offers that will compensate you for the effort.

The contests really just drive small company and academic research. If a big company enters and wins, they look silly for beating the little guys with lots of money. If they loose, they look even worse.

The little companies win just by entering. They get exposure and are driven to make relationships with the big companies.

In the aero and defense industries, I think these competitions will kick start the valley business model, where big company R&D is done by buying smaller companies. I feel like science research is stagnating, but this model might get it going again. The organized competition lends credibility and exposure to the process.

I've seen R&D (not pure science, but new product development) being done in big companies. It ain't pretty and it ain't efficient.

Joe

would you use fundable.org? (2, Interesting)

swframe (646356) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173732)

The results could be open to the public.

Should be interesting (4, Insightful)

inflex (123318) | more than 8 years ago | (#14172888)

While the prize money isn't a lot, it might actually have an interesting effect in bringing about the less well funded but no less ingenious developers into the foray while the typical high ranking developers/companies pay less attention. It's certainly something I'd be interested in participating in (the aerial navigation).

Hmm... (5, Funny)

St0rmwarden (759530) | more than 8 years ago | (#14172894)

I wonder if GTX Global will be entering anything with their "true AI" onboard...

Already something like the second one: (4, Informative)

OverlordQ (264228) | more than 8 years ago | (#14172938)

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International holds an annual competition named the International Aerial Robotics Competition. In order to win, a team's vehicle must complete these four objectives autonomously, without human intervention:

        * Fly three kilometers along a specified path of GPS waypoints.
        * Search a target area for a marked building; identify the openings and their centers.
        * Enter the building and document specific aspects within its interior.
        * Complete the previous three goals consecutively in less than 15 minutes.


Yes it's GPS vs Visual, but roughly similar

Re:Already something like the second one: (2, Interesting)

Alterscape (904055) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173396)

I was involved in my university's AUVSI/IAR team two years ago. I didn't have enough CS background to participate in the development, but I did a lot of work building up and modifying the ARF airframe we purchased for our competition use (that mainly consisted of building new higher-lift airfoils and making mounting arrangements for our camera and control system). I attended meetings and talked to the programmers and from what I know, GPS was almost invaluable in our solution. You can achieve kind-of-the-same sort of accuracy with an inertial guidance system and a known take-off point (which is what US fighter aircraft did for non-radio navigation in the pre-GPS days) but that lacks the same precision, and isn't nearly as simple as plugging in a GPS receiver that spits out coordinates in an immediately-useful fashion.

So the no-GPS thing -is- a real difference between the competitions.

An aside: When I was involved, we didn't have to actually fly -into- the building. This sounds like it tilts the playing field very far in favor of helicopters or other VTOL solutions.. but that's not relevant to the NASA prize.

Re:Already something like the second one: (1)

michaelconnor (925973) | more than 8 years ago | (#14174585)

As a past participant in the AUVSI/IARC, I've noticed that only a few teams have tried using a fixed-wing approach. This is likely because the "building entry" requirement is difficult to accomplish without navigating in close proximity to the buildings. Yet since Mars has such a thin atmosphere, one would think that a rotary-wing aircraft would be much less practical for NASA's purposes.

However, if the NASA competition allows for helicopters, there are several IARC teams that have developed vision-based (no GPS) navigation capability for their rotary-wing platforms. In particular, Carnegie Mellon University [cmu.edu] , Georgia Tech [gatech.edu] , and USC [usc.edu] all appear to have successfully developed this capability.

The only other requirement listed is "extending and retracting a probe to precisely hit multiple targets on the ground." This statement is pretty vague, and doesn't sound very trivial, but there is precedent.

So far anyway, there doesn't appear to be much any new technology needed to win this NASA competition. Contending institutions that have developed visual navigation techniques can probably just integrate an extra computer/camera to a cheap commercial UAV, optimize their algorithm for the competition terrain type, and interface their controller with the UAV's mission planner. Hopefully NASA will soon add some requirements that will level the playing field a bit and provide them with some usable R&D.

Military? (2, Informative)

Mr2cents (323101) | more than 8 years ago | (#14172942)

I have just read the robotic competition faq yesterday, and I remember a similar competition there.. I just found it back at http://avdil.gtri.gatech.edu/AUVS/IARCLaunchPoint. html [gatech.edu] . I was just looking for a fun competition so that I have some fixed requirements for building a robot myself, but it's either too advanced or too simple. If anyone knows of a fun competition in Europe, please let me know.

"Fully autonomous ingress of 3km to an urban area, locate a particular structure from among many, identify all of the true openings in the correct structure, fly in or send in a sensor that can find one of three targets and relay video or still photographs back 3km to the origin in under 15 minutes."

It looks similar, although the prize money is only $50k, and it's for military use.

Re:Military? (1)

AndroidCat (229562) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173349)

So it finds a building, locates the entrances, gets in and finds one of three targets and .. takes pictures? This is obviously a paparazzi-bot for conducting character-assassination missions.

Re:Military? (1)

Mr2cents (323101) | more than 8 years ago | (#14174020)

Didn't you know that the death of Lady Di happened just days after a prototype managed to escape, and that the test target at the top-secret military base was code-named Lady Die? Coincidence? I think NOT! Luckily, since then the army has discovered that fences don't work on flying robots. Also, in order to prevent accidents even if one of them gets loose, they changed the name of the test doll from Lady Die to Mister Chirac, claiming that they have never heard such a silly name in real life. So we should be safe now.

Knock, knock. Reality? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14172945)

Is the goverment totally attempting to demonstrate how disconnected from reality it has become? I'm trying to understand the reasoning behind these ridiculous terms: Do something incredible hard, mostly for free, no attempt on our part to even pretend to cover a fraction of the cost with the reward money. I'm sorry, why? The goverment hands out billions in Corporate welfare, funds global police actions, but this is their idea of a reasonable way of conducting themselves in some sort of scientifc endevour?

Re:Knock, knock. Reality? (1)

Breakfast Pants (323698) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173243)

Is the government asking for the rights to your invention if you win the prize money? No. So why should they pay all the development costs when conceivably you could sell the system to cover them, land a contract, etc., etc.. I don't see your point.

not that I like to quote Bruce Willis movies... (1)

way2trivial (601132) | more than 8 years ago | (#14174836)

but, patents don't cover use off-planet.

if they use the design-or one loosley based on it- on mars.. whaddya gonna do?

Can you actually provide proof (1)

technoextreme (885694) | more than 8 years ago | (#14175100)

but, patents don't cover use off-planet.

if they use the design-or one loosley based on it- on mars.. whaddya gonna do?

I have never heard of NASA actually stealing technology from someone to use of their probes nor searching multiple topics turned up nothing.

Re:not that I like to quote Bruce Willis movies... (1)

Breakfast Pants (323698) | more than 8 years ago | (#14176909)

We are a long way from manufacturing things on mars. So, stuff that we manufacture here and then use there is still covered.

They could attract university teams (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14172995)

Here's an example of a similar contest: www.flyingrobots.com/our_mission.htm

There are several contests for robotic firefighting, even at the highschool level.

Maybe the most successful (well publicized) engineering contest is the solar car contest. University students will do amazing things with almost no reward. What you have to do is supply an attractive structure.

Had to be said (0, Troll)

FoamingToad (904595) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173168)

But where is the prize for the PUSHER ROBOT?

I am a high school student (3, Insightful)

PlayfullyClever (934896) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173291)

I am a high school student, so I believe I am qualified to answer you.

First, be forwarned. I don't mean to sound cynical, but there is not a whole lot that has to do with science and technology that would excite most students. Even if it does, a lot of people are too scared of being called a "nerd" or a "geek" and thereby having their social status for the rest of the four years ruined to show that excitement.

There are, however, some. I don't think that a robotics competition is a good idea, however. I don't know about most schools, but at mine there are not a lot of people interested in robotics. Besides, it would take a lot of work, and a lot of the most brilliant people are inherently lazy.

I think the programming fair was a great idea, however. Every time I write a program to do the simplest thing on my TI-83+ graphing calculator (such as convert celsius to fahrenheit for instance) people gape at me with awe and amazement and ask, how did you DO that? This includes jocks, socialites, and various other groups of people who would normally not be caught dead showing an interest in the "nerdy" fields of computers or technology.

If you put on a programming fair, you are not going to be able to teach anyone computer programming in a day, but you will spark their interest. Give away a few CDs with C tutorials on them or something, and maybe, just maybe, a few kids will try them out.

Also, expect the bit-head population to turn out in force at your fair. You can even put some of them to good use, having them help the newbies who have no idea what's going on.

In conclusion, programming fair=good, robotics competition=bad.

Re:I am a high school student (1)

ichigo 2.0 (900288) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173339)

I don't think this competition is aimed at high school students in particular.

Re:I am a high school student (2, Funny)

Ada_Rules (260218) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173566)

If you put on a programming fair, you are not going to be able to teach anyone computer programming in a day, but you will spark their interest. Give away a few CDs with C tutorials on them or something, and maybe, just maybe, a few kids will try them out.
Give high school students CDs with C tutorials on them...Ugg..Why don't we just give them crack pipes. I've seen the damage a few months of C programming can do to a yound mind..It is not pretty.

Re:I am a high school student (1)

bluGill (862) | more than 8 years ago | (#14175902)

Could be worse, he could have suggested Visual Basic for instance.

There are know known cases of someone who starts programming with Basic going onto becoming a good programmer. There are cases of programmers starting with C going on to become good (though I wouldn't recommend C to beginners either).

There are good programmers who work with Basic, but they started with something else, and only do Basic because that is where the money is.

Re:I am a high school student (1)

Athena1101 (582706) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173958)

Ever been to a FIRST robotics competition? Go to one and tell me you can't get high schoolers excited about robots. :)

MOD PARENT DOWN: Plagiarized comment (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 8 years ago | (#14175798)

The parent was copied word-for-word from a comment on a story a few months ago on What interests high-school students? [slashdot.org] .

why would you copy someone elses poor arguments? (1)

bjomo (832719) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188622)

My first thought is, "this guy likes programming, not robotics". Programming really doesn't seem any less nerdy or more accessible (comparing a sponsored programming fair to a sponsored robotics competition) than robotics.

Secondly, plagerizing a slashdot post? Good gravy, what is wrong with you?

Some Assembly Required (1)

AndroidCat (229562) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173303)

As Scotty would say, "Building a team of robots to assemble structures from building blocks is easy. Teaching them to read the 'easy assembly' instructions, now that's hard!"

BITCH (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14173402)

nasa or the military? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14173466)

"...to create a robot which can fly a path using visual navigation and hit ground targets with a probe."

Any guarantee other government institutions aren't going to be using this technology as well? One minute, you tink you're helping science by creating a flying robot navigator for mars missions, the next your technology is being used to smart bomb Iraq.

Re:nasa or the military? (1)

tchdab1 (164848) | more than 8 years ago | (#14174838)

Absolutely.
NASA already has a subtantial (40%? 60%?) part of its budget dedicated to military pursuits (some satellite launching and maintenance, for example), another way of hiding military expenditures in things that don't look like military uses to the general public (other ones are atomic energy agency funding).
This looks pretty blatant on the surface - farm out research for robotic military mechanics through NASA.
Has anyone seen any peripheral evidence of the intended purposes of this project?

if you can't win, change the rules (1)

argStyopa (232550) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173478)

I'm interested in the limiting rules for the competitions. Why not use GPS?

I wonder how long it is before someone thinks to throw a GPS net over Mars; with slightly-more-capable satellites, this 'web' could serve as multipurpose GPS, commo net, and safety system. I don't know how much it cost for GPS here, but it seems like a reasonable investment that would greatly accelerate the exploration and use of Mars.

Re:if you can't win, change the rules (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14173818)

as part of a package of measures of having a good look at mars some net of satelites providing gps and other relavent functions would be a logical place to start, with some clever programming and remembering not to intermingle inches with cm we could have a ready setup telemetry system that could have enough processing power to give us a better chance at managing devices down on the planet.

Actually, as I think about it, this has to be the way to start, ring the planet with gps/telemetry/probe satelites and maybe orbital base modules to construct/launch the planetside devices.

This way, when we do put stuff there, we can see where everything is and if stuff breaks down and dies, we can see where it happened and get a better post mortem at least.

Of course I'm sure this would be hilariously expensive :)

Re:if you can't win, change the rules (1)

bjomo (832719) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188687)

Sorry but its not the first time someone has thought of this.

http://msnbc.msn.com/id/5387135/ [msn.com] http://www.primidi.com/2004/07/09.html [primidi.com]

or just google it for many other results

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=mars+gps&btnG =Google+Search [google.com]

Milltary connection? (2, Insightful)

FhnuZoag (875558) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173580)

The second is an Planetary Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Challenge, to create a robot which can fly a path using visual navigation and hit ground targets with a probe (no GPS allowed).

There is obviously a military connection here. For probe, read bomb, or bullet. Essentially, it's designing the next generation of autonomous UAVs. Presumeably, our military planners now believe GPS to be possible to compromise in times of war. (fairly reasonable thanks to the new attention on space war)

What are the ethics of this sort of competition?

Re:Milltary connection? (1)

Athena1101 (582706) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173971)

They could use these to drop packages of cargo, building materials, or supplies. One of the biggest problems NASA has right now is how to create an environment where astronauts can safely travel beyond about 7km from their base (that's around where the current limit is right now, I think, due to life support system capabilities and safety factors). The ability to drop energy stations, refueling stations, oxygen tanks, or whatever remotely would be pretty invaluable.

Re:Milltary connection? (1)

antispam_ben (591349) | more than 8 years ago | (#14174010)

They could use these to drop packages of cargo, building materials, or supplies.

Isn't this also a miliyary use? Wasn't the DARPA Grand Challenge meant to do the same thing with ground-based vehicles to move supplies toward compat positions?

From the FIP (Introductory Paragraph?):

Both prizes are for $250,000, the max Congress is allowing NASA to offer.

I wonder if NASA could subcontract this to DARPA, which could then offer a couple million dollars for each prize.

Re:Milltary connection? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14174652)

Ok, but if a company called Cyberdine enters I'm gonna be really scared.

Good first step towards lunar/mars base (1)

chiph (523845) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173678)

This is a good step towards construction of a lunar or mars base. I was hoping for something that would get Caterpillar [cat.com] or Terex [terex.com] involved, though.

Also - are these structural building elements the standard concrete cinderblocks (CMU) that are used to build shopping malls, etc?

Chip H.

What? (1)

natefanaro (304646) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173866)

No pusher robots?

I have a shover robot, if they need it (2, Insightful)

jovlinger (55075) | more than 8 years ago | (#14173869)

It's great for pushing things

Re:I have a shover robot, if they need it (1)

idiot900 (166952) | more than 8 years ago | (#14174791)

The pusher robot and shover robot comments are, of course, referring to the Terrible Secret of Space:

http://newgrounds.com/portal/view/33440 [newgrounds.com]

scary... (1)

gralem (45862) | more than 8 years ago | (#14174107)

You realize this is only one robotic generation away from pusher and shover robots, right? Hello! Nasa, an arm of the unstoppable goverment that needs to PUSH stuff into space! I hope my grandmother does not live to see the day.

---gralem

Next steps (1)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 8 years ago | (#14174187)

I think that this is necessary in taking the next steps. We've shown that its possible to send rovers to Mars and land on comets etc. The next step is to explore the various orbs in our solar system to identify which are going to be worth sending people to. If you waste billions on a manned mission to planetary body with no worth or return, its just a waste. If you spends millions finding a planetary body that has minerals or water or whatever will give ROI, before sending a manned mission, it is worth it. These robotic contests are hopefully going to spur the development of technologies that will allow that exploration. Funny enough, militaristic requirements are not dissimilar to those of planetary exploration. If the current Mars rovers were more capable (with AI etc.) then we would have much more information about Mars. Launching a UAV to go 'hit' that water/ice location would tell us if it was water/ice... just like smashing an asteroid tells us things about it.

Yes, there is probably reason to be cynical, but looking at realistic requirements shows that such military type tasks are also quite useful for standard exploration.

two cents worth
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