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NASA Announces Space Robotics Challenge Finalists

Top teams will compete in a simulated Mars mission

2 min read
NASA Valkyrie Humanoid Robot
NASA's Valkyrie humanoid robot.
Image: NASA

Last August, NASA opened the first round of the Space Robotics Challenge. A follow-on to the DARPA Robotics Challenge, the SRC is focused on what it’s going to take to get humans back to the moon or on to Mars, embracing the idea that sending humanoid robots there first would make everything a heck of a lot easier. Just like the DRC, the SRC starts in simulation, with an initial round to select 20 finalists from 93 competing teams. NASA has just announced the results.

In order to make it into one of the 20 finalist slots, teams had to perform some simple tasks in simulation (using Gazebo) as quickly as possible. They had to correctly identify a series of simulated blinking lights, and then push a button with a simulated R5 Valkyrie and walk 1 meter through a door without falling over.

All 20 teams have equal standing as they move on to the final round of the competition, but here are the top five in order of how amusing I find their team names:

  • Walk Softly
  • Ring of the Nibelungs
  • Nevermore

The other 15 somewhat-less-creatively-named finalist teams are, in alphabetical order:

  • Coordinated Robotics
  • Mingo Mountain Robotics
  • MITs
  • Mystic
  • Sirius
  • SpaceBucs
  • Space Weavers
  • Team AL v.2.0
  • Team Olrun
  • Team Olympus Mons
  • Whalers
  • WPI Humanoid Robotics Lab
  • WV Robotics Team
  • Xion Systems
  • ZARJ

NASA tells us that 16 of these teams are based in the United States. There’s one Canadian team, one team from Japan, one mixed team from the U.S./U.K./Germany, and one horribly timezone-challenged mixed team from Spain/Scotland/Canada/Australia. The largest team has 39 members and the smallest has just a single person, and a full half of the teams have no specific affiliation, which is pretty cool.

The SRC Finals themselves will take place between June 13 and June 17—check out our earlier post for more details on that. In the meantime, NASA is hosting a space robotics webinar which actually looks interesting, a thing that I don’t think I’ve ever said about a webinar before. It’s next week, and you can sign up here.


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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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