What high school student could resist the opportunity to use a robot to wreak havoc aboard the International Space Station? And by wreak havoc, I mean compete with other high school students to remotely control a little floating SPHERES robot under the close supervision of a real live astronaut.
The Zero Robotics competition, hosted by NASA and DARPA in cooperation with MIT, Aurora Flight Sciences, and TopCoder, tasks teams of high school students with programming one of those cute little SPHERES microgravity satellite robots to autonomously complete a "technically challenging" three dimensional race against another robot programmed by another team. The programming can be done in a high-level graphical environment (with an instant-gratification Flash-based simulator), and as the teams get more comfortable with things, they can transition directly into C, meaning that the students may actually learn something practical. Woo!
Once the teams have tested their code out in simulation and physically in two dimensions (using robots at MIT), a full 3D simulation tournament will be held, and the top 27 teams from that event will watch live via webcast as the real SPHERES robots execute their code on board the International Space Station in December of this year.
If you want in, or if you're interested in mentoring a team, you can check out all the details and fill out an application on the Zero Robotics competition website here. The deadline is September 5.
Also, ISS astronauts, if you're reading this (you do read our blog, right?), you should totally have Robonaut pretend to juggle the SPHERES robots in microgravity and make a video. It would be awesome.