Space Robotics Challenge Finals


The Space Robotics Challenge (SRC) came to a close last week with a wonderful celebration event at Space Center Houston. The celebration event brought together competitors and organizers over two days with tours of Johnson Space Center (JSC), team presentations, and an award ceremony.

The SRC tasked teams with developing and displaying the ability of the Valkyrie (R5) robot to assist in a virtual NASA Mars mission. A prize pool of $1 million was available to successful teams. The following scenario served as a backdrop for the challenge.

In the not too distant future, Valkyrie has arrived on Mars along with supplies ahead of a human mission. Overnight a dust storm damaged the habitat and solar array, and caused the primary communication antenna to become misaligned. Valkyrie must now repair an air leak in the habitat, deploy a new solar panel, and align the communication antenna.


Teams developed software to control Valkyrie in order to resolve the problems caused by the dust storm. Gazebo was used as the simulation platform, with integration to a walking controller from Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC). Additional ROS interfaces were provided by JSC.

Each team was evaluated according to a scoring metric that considered the number of tasks completed and the time required to complete the tasks. Unique to SRC was a focus on completing multiple tasks sequentially, without falling. The winning teams were able to complete numerous tasks, even in the presence of significant network latency and bandwidth restrictions.

The top four teams are:

First place: Coordinated Robotics

Coordinated Robotics is a one-man team from California that has previously competed in other robotics challenges. Because dexterous control of a robot requires coordination between sensors and actuators, the team name of Coordinated Robotics was formulated. Hoping to win prizes and learn more about humanoids, Coordinated Robotics will focus on manipulation of humanoids to excel in the competition.

Second place: Walk Softly

Team Walk Softly joins the fray from upstate New York. The team name is reminiscent of a phrase often attributed to former President Theodore Roosevelt, "speak softly and carry a big stick - you will go far." Team members are coworkers at GE Global Research who have an interest in humanoid robots and decided to enter on their own time. The team is excited to see the innovative solutions that come out of this challenge.

Third place: Olympus Mons

Ten robotics and software specialists representing six countries make up Team Olympus Mons. Olympus Mons is the name of the largest discovered volcano in the solar system and is located on Mars, where the simulated competition will take place; this is where they gained inspiration for their team name. The team members are all current or former employees at PAL Robotics who have stayed in touch throughout the years. Although they are not eligible for prize money, Team Olympus Mons entered the competition to have fun and become more involved in simulated space exploration.

Fourth place: ZARJ

ZARJ is represented by four engineers and programmers based in Minnesota. The Team has been interested in NASA's Centennial Challenges for the past four years, but did not have the time or resources to enter the contests. Finally, ZARJ was able to enter the Space Robotics Challenge before the deadline arrived. If ZARJ is awarded prize money, they plan to distribute it equally between team members to defray some competition travel costs.

Congratulations to all teams that participated in the competition!