So, what is this competition? And what’s it all about? Six years ago, NASA put on the first Robotic Mining Competition; over 20 teams came in from all around the United States to compete against each other. NASA began the whole thing in an effort to help solve a
very real future issue: gathering raw materials while in space.
As most people are probably aware of at this point, the long term
goal of space travel is space habitation. The new frontier is no longer on
Earth. It’s millions of miles away. However, living in space brings up
obvious issues — one of which is the collection of resources that humans
will need in order to build and sustain themselves long term. Obviously,
shipping through space is highly impractical — at least from our
perspective at the moment — so the logical step is to mine on the planets.
NASA decided instead of using their own researchers and engineers,
they would put the test to university students from across the US, with
representatives from a majority of the states. Teams are challenged to
create a robot — either wirelessly controlled from NASA’s mobile mission
control or with autonomous programming — that will be able to mine and
collect raw materials.
The mining is the main portion of the competition. This is more
difficult than simply releasing a robot into an arena and it scooping up
dirt. The material they must mine — Black Point-1 (BP-1) — is modeled
after lunar dirt. It’s extremely fine and powdery. For the first few years of
this competition, robots were getting their wheels stuck and they
struggled to efficiently collect such a fine material. The first year of the
competition brought only one team collecting the required minimum of
10 Kg of BP-1, which teams have two separate runs to complete.
There’s more to this competition than just mining, however, since
Living in Florida, more
specifically the Cape
Canaveral area, I’ve been to
the NASA visitor complex
enough to find the rocket
garden with my eyes closed.
The sweltering Florida heat
and thick, muggy humidity
was nothing new to me.
However, this last trip out
onto NASA property did
bring a new experience to
me. It wasn’t a new ride or
restaurant, it wasn’t a visit
from a former astronaut. It
was an event: the Sixth
Annual NASA Robotic
SERVO 09.2016 47
NASA Rolls Out Sixth
Teams from around the
country compete for
scholarships, awards, and
By Holden Berry