NASA’s Valkyrie robot was always intended to take a trip into space and the space agency has just ramped up the process that might send this camera-clad contraption to Mars by opening registration for the Space Robotics Challenge.
The Challenge tasks entrants with “…developing software to increase the autonomy of dexterous mobile robots in humanoid format” for the Valkyrie, a bipedal robot that is also known as R5 or Robonaut 5. The Space Robotics Challenge will help to prep the Valkyrie for a space journey, perhaps as far as Mars where it could be used to establish the first off-world human colony. Or just erect a small place for the various Mars rovers to park.
Before that can happen entrants in the Challenge will have to use a virtual framework to get R5 to perform certain tasks. Said tasks include aligning a satellite dish, fixing a solar array or repairing an air leak. Other real-world tasks could take place on Earth, the surface of Mars or even on a transport on its way to another planet so NASA wants to be sure they’re getting it right before sending off a bunch of expensive hardware.
Prior to the competition proper, entrants will have to perform some simpler tasks, programming the Valkyrie to correctly identify ten random lights in a row as well as making the unit press a button and walk through an opening door without falling over. Baby steps, people.
The eventual outcome of the contest is that the folks who clear the first few stages and wind up in the running for the $1 million prize pool should have programmed Valkyrie to set up and maintain a small Mars-based station. Or at least advanced its capabilities a whole bunch. Once the tasks can be done in a virtual environment, then we can look at sending the six-foot tall robot to Mars to get things ready for human habitation. The Space Robotics Challenge is open for pre-registration now and registration will close on 16 September. Qualifying rounds start on 19 September.