A robotics competition held by the National Aerounatics and Space Administration, held throughout this week at the campus grounds of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, was won by a team from the West Virginia University whose robot was the only one to complete the requested challenge.
The competition brought forth sixteen teams throughout the country who were tasked with developing autonomous robots for an object challenge, in a bid to encourage both development of robotics software and its popularity. One of the teams was comprised out of high school students from the New York Schenectady High School.
The challenge consisted in having the robots identify and find three different objects on their own, after being given approximate coordinates of their location. This was divided upon three levels of difficulty, with the first on level one requiring the robots to start off a platform and find just one object. However, only three of the nine robots competing initially on Wednesday made it to the starting platform and none of them managed to find any of the required objects.
The competition was more enticing on Thursday as two teams who passed level one at last year’s event competed in level two, which required their robots to find multiple objects. A team formed out of various Silicon Valley engineers had their robot find one object and then run over another, while the West Virginia University robot was the only one to find the required number of three objects, winning the $100.000 prize.
All of this year’s competing teams went through level one again on Friday, but again none of them managed to retrieve the requested object and advance to level 2. Despite this, manager of the NASA challenge Colleen Shaveer commended the teams who participated, explaining that robotics autonomy is still at the stage of cutting edge technology and implementing it properly is extremely difficult even with great amount of resources due to the amount of variables that go into it.
She also noted the example of the high-school team – the only non-engineer team present, who even managed to get further than some of the teams from top engineering institutes (for example, a team from the MIT faced technical difficulties that didn’t allow their robot to even reach the starting platform – to point out the fact that even in robotics innovation isn’t reserved to professional engineers and can be achieved regardless of background if enough time and energy is put into it.
Image Source: NASA