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NASA Needs Your Help in Designing an Arm for Their Flying Space Robot

the earth from outer spaceIt’s not often that the iconic space agency lets people in on the fun of making robots meant for space travel. In fact, it was pretty big news when NASA called on MIT to help build improvements and designs for their robots last year. And now, NASA is again looking for crowdsourced solutions to complete one of their new robots destined for outer space.

Introducing the Astrobee—a free-flying robot the space agency is making to live aboard the International Space Station. This cute little robot will be used to interact with the space station environment—almost like R2-D2 interacting with the Death Star! And NASA wants your help creating and designing a robotic arm for the Astrobee. If you’re interested in submitting designs for the arm you can register through a newly opened contest.

According to The Verge, the Astrobee builds on MIT’s SPHERES project, which involves three free-flying robots that have lived on the station since 2006. By 2017, the Astrobee will be scheduled to live inside the ISS, autonomously roaming throughout the space station cabin and using sensors to conduct inspections or cameras to film the astronauts at work. They’re almost like security drones, but friendlier!

What NASA is looking for is a tiny arm for the robot that it can use to perch on surfaces or interact with small objects. They’re working on their own design for the arm, but the space agency wants to see what other ideas people might have in mind. We think it’s a great opportunity for those interested in robotics or aerospace engineering to really showcase their talents at building robots.

The contest, called the NASA System Architecture Task, is open for entries and already more than 1,500 people have submitted to the contest. Eventually NASA will select 30 of the people who have registered to go on to complete the task. Those who are selected will receive $10 and a finalized breakdown of all the elements they must deliver to NASA in order to win. The finalists who fulfill all these requirements will get $100 each, but there’s no word yet on how much the winner (or winners) will get. It could be somewhere in the hundreds of thousands of dollars range!

NASA has been on a crowdsourcing kick lately so keep on the lookout for more projects. If you’re interested, check out the NASA Tournament Lab Challenges webpage for more ideas on how to help the space agency out. We can’t wait to see which design will make it into space!

photo credit: South Africa and Lesotho (NASA, International Space Station, 06/13/14) via photopin (license)

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