Luna Rovers Strut their Stuff: 2012 Hardware Reel

25 teams from around the world are currently building robots, rockets, and lunar landers to win the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE. 

This year shows some impressive advancements in the rover designs, propulsion and avionics technology. Teams are stepping it up as the competition thickens and with all the recent headlining developments in space, the Moon does not seem so far away.

This is the 5th year anniversary of the Google Lunar X PRIZE and to celebrate, we’re going to do a little bit of showboating and strut our teams’ stuff. Every year, we collect hardware video clips from the teams and showcase their progress.





Oh hey and even though it’s our birthday, we want to give you a gift! Retweet this video/blog post on twitter with a mention to @glxp and you have a chance to win a Google Lunar X PRIZE t-shirt!


Passing the Mental Check on Innovation Challenges

As I mentioned in this blog post, 5 Key Elements for Making Communities Work, I gave a talk at the HYPE Innovation User Forum last year.

At the forum, I met Colin Nelson from HYPE Innovation, who gave an interesting presentation in which he shared some good insights on how to make people participate in innovation challenges.

I especially paid attention to his comments that any individual that we invite to share ideas or expertise run through a series of mental checks before they spare their time. Colin states that these checks are carried out at lightening pace and often done subconsciously. However, if we understand what they are, the answers to such checks can be built into a communications plan.

Some examples are below:

I fully agree with Colin when he says that people are busy and that they will only spare their time if they understand it is for a good purpose and won’t be wasted. He also says that if we give invitees the answers to the questions upfront, before they have time to ask those questions of themselves, we have a much greater chance of receiving the participation we want and need.

I like this advice on innovation challenges. Let me know if you can share similar insights on this.

The big idea (Sydney Morning Herald)….

THERE can’t be too many Nobel winners, surely, who set out to win it? For brilliant work that is done for its own sake, any prize is a surprise.

But there’s another kind of prize, the challenge or inducement prize. Governments, deep-pocketed philanthropists and a clever tech start-up are using them to tackle the world’s wicked problems, or even just the really tricky ones.

The $10 million Ansari X Prize, awarded in 2004, kick-started the private space flight industry. Peter Diamandis’s X Prize Foundation seeks to spark ”radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity” with inducements including $30 million to the first privately funded teams that can safely land a robot on the moon and perform certain tasks.

Challenge prizes have a long history. The British government in 1714 offered a reward of £20,000 to the person who could calculate longitude at sea and thus save ships from being wrecked or lost. Dava Sobel’s book Longitude tells the story.

Fast forward to the 21st century and Kaggle, a company that has grown from Anthony Goldbloom’s Bondi flat to become the toast of Silicon Valley. It hosts competitions for its 17,000-plus PhD members to help solve huge data-related problems, with prizes ranging from thousands to millions of dollars. The Centre for Challenge Prizes at Britain’s innovation centre, Nesta, is tapping the collective wisdom of citizens to solve social problems. So everybody wins.

Longitude, Dava Sobel, Harper Collins

NASA-WPI 2013 Robot Prize Competition Registration Open…

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — NASA and the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, Mass., have opened registration and are seeking teams to compete in next year’s robot technology demonstration competition, which offers as much as $1.5 million in prize money.


During the 2013 NASA-WPI Sample Return Robot Challenge, teams will compete to demonstrate a robot can locate and retrieve geologic samples from a wide and varied terrain without human control. The objective of the competition is to encourage innovations in automatic navigation and robotic manipulator technologies. Innovations stemming from this challenge may improve NASA’s capability to explore a variety of destinations in space, as well as enhance the nation’s robotic technology for use in industries and applications on Earth. The competition is planned for June 2013 in Worcester, Mass., attracting competitors from industry and academia nationwide.

NASA is providing the prize money to the winning team as part of the agency’s Centennial Challenges competitions, which seek unconventional solutions to problems of interest to the agency and the nation. While NASA provides the prize purse, the competitions are managed by non-profit organizations that cover the cost of operations through commercial or private sponsorships.

“We’ve opened registration and are eager to see returning teams, and new challengers, enter this second Sample Return Robot Challenge,” said NASA Space Technology Program Director Michael Gazarik at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “Contests like NASA’s Centennial Challenges are an excellent example of government sparking the engine of American innovation and prosperity through competition while keeping our nation on the cutting edge of advanced robotics technology. Teams from academia, industry and even citizen-inventors are all invited to join the competition and help NASA solve real technology needs. With a $1.5 million prize purse, we’re looking forward to seeing some great technology that will enable our future missions and advance robotics right here in America.”

The first Sample Return Robot Challenge, which took place in June, also was held at WPI. While almost a dozen teams entered the competition, none qualified to compete for the prize purse. NASA and WPI are partnering again to repeat and advance the competition, which is expected to draw more competitors and greater technological innovation from among the teams.

“We’re honored and excited to once again host the Sample Return Robot Challenge,” said WPI President and CEO Dennis Berkey. “This year, 7,000 people turned out to watch the competition, which was the first of its kind on the East Coast, and to enjoy WPI’s fantastic Touch Tomorrow Festival of Science, Technology and Robots. This university is a hub of expertise and innovation within the area of robotics, and it’s a pleasure to engage people of all ages and backgrounds in the wonders of this competition, this festival, and this emerging field.”

There have been 23 NASA Centennial Challenges competition events since 2005, and through this program NASA has awarded more than $6 million to 15 different challenge-winning teams. Competitors have included private companies, student groups and independent inventors working outside the traditional aerospace industry. Unlike contracts or grants, prizes are awarded only after solutions are successfully demonstrated.

WPI is one of the only universities to offer bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in robotics engineering. In 2007, the university was the first in the nation to offer a bachelor’s degree program in this area. Through its Robotics Resource Center, WPI supports robotics projects, teams, events and K-12 outreach programs. Each year, WPI manages at least seven competitive robotics tournaments and also has sponsored programs that foster the use of robots to solve important societal problems and encourage consideration of the societal implications of this new area of technology.

For more information about the Sample Return Robot Challenge and WPI, visit

The Centennial Challenges program is part of NASA’s Space Technology Program, which is innovating, developing, testing, and flying hardware for use in NASA’s future missions. NASA’s Space Technology Program and the Centennial Challenges are creating new technological solutions for NASA and our nation’s future.

For more information about NASA’s Centennial Challenges and the Space Technology Program, visit:

In Contest for Rescue Robots, Darpa Offers $2 Million Prize (NY Times)

The Pentagon’s advanced research agency said on Wednesday that it will offer a prize of $2 million to the winners of a contest testing the performance of robots that could be used in emergencies like the Fukushima nuclear crisis in Japan.

The Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, which is responsible for helping the nation avoid unpleasant technological surprises, had previously announced its Robotics Challenge, but on Wednesday it added details and announced the selection of teams that will compete in separate “tracks” of the contest.

In one competition the contestants will build their own robots, while in a second they will design software to control a humanoid-style robot supplied by the government and developed by Boston Dynamics, a developer of advanced mobile robots. Boston Dynamics is known for the Big Dog robot it developed for Darpa, which walks on four legs and is able to carry heavy loads on uneven ground. More recently it has gotten Internet attention for a robot named Cheetah. In a video, Cheetah runs on an indoor track at 28.3 miles per hour, faster than Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest human. Another video shows a robot designed for Darpa by Boston Dynamics that stands on two legs and avoids obstacles.

Two other contests will take place in a computerized simulation system and are intended to be broadly open to a range of entrants from around the world.

Gill Pratt, the Darpa program manager who is directing the Robotics Challenge, said in a telephone press conference on Monday that the program was not intended to develop futuristic robot war fighters.

Currently the United States military has both airborne and undersea robotic weapons systems, but it has made less progress in ground-based weapons. Thousands of robots are now used in Iraq and Afghanistan to deal with land mines, and there are some experimental vehicles that carry equipment being used in war zones. But the military has done little to design robotic soldiers for use on the ground.

“We’re aiming for a challenge on a different technical problem right now,” Dr. Pratt said. One of the missions of the United States military is to respond with humanitarian assistance to events like natural and manmade disasters, and in situations like the Fukushima disaster. In that emergency, robots were sent to the plant but its technical experts had to be trained to use them, which took valuable time. Dr. Pratt said that a generation of robots that were simpler to operate and had the capability to use tools that are often already available at disaster sites would make a big difference in speeding the response to a future crisis.

The robot supplied by the government and developed by Boston Dynamics. The robot supplied by the government and developed by Boston Dynamics.

Darpa has sponsored a number of similar challenges. The highest-profile contests focused on autonomous vehicles in 2004, 2005 and 2007. They are widely seen to have served as a catalyst that has jump-started commercial development of self-driving cars. A number of automobile manufacturers as well as Google are now nearing commercialization of self-driving technologies.

In one of the new Robotics Challenge tracks, the agency has chosen Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Center, Drexel University, Raytheon, Schaft, Virginia Tech, NASA’s Johnson Space Center and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to design their own systems. The robots are not required to be humanoid forms, and several of the competitors are creating machines that look anything but human. For example, a prototype from JPL has three legs and one arm.

Teams from these organizations will be supplied with an advanced robot from Boston Dynamics and will be required to program it in the contest: Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Technology Laboratories, RE2, University of Kansas, Carnegie Mellon University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, TRAC Labs, University of Washington, the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, Ben-Gurion University, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and TORC Robotics.

The robots will be required to do things like drive vehicles, climb over debris, operate power tools and control machines and valves.

The agency is also organizing a separate contest inside an online virtual world that will allow a wider range of contestants to design software avatars to perform rescue missions, Dr. Pratt said.

“There has been tremendous work in the gaming field, and we believe that a lot of the talent in that field can be brought in to play here,” he said.

In the real-world version of the challenge, it will not be mandatory for the robots to be autonomous, but systems that are designed to operate without direct human control will be scored higher, Dr. Pratt said. The agency will adjust the wireless bandwidth available to control the robots in an effort to simulate real world conditions. For example, in the Fukushima disaster, thick walls made it difficult to control robots that were designed to communicate wirelessly with human operators.

The issue of autonomous weapons systems has been controversial because of the Pentagon’s use of airborne drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Earlier this year a report issued by the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board said the military had been slow in deploying technologies that would allow weapons more autonomy. It noted that in some cases, it requires teams of several hundred weapons operators to support a single airborne drone mission.

DARPA Officially Launches Robotics Grand Challenge – Watch Pet-Proto Robot in Action

Today, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) officially kicked off its newest Grand Challenge, DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC). AsBoston Dynamics robot [credit Boston Dynamics]we’ve blogged previously, the Grand Challenge calls for “a humanoid robot (with a bias toward bipedal designs) that can be used in rough terrain and for industrial disasters.” DARPA also released a video of Pet-Proto, a humanoid robot manufactured by Boston DynamicsPet-Proto, a predecessor to DARPA’s Atlas robot, is an example of what the agency envisions for the challenge.

Watch Pet-Proto in action, as it navigates obstacles:


More about the challenge from DARPA:

The Department of Defense’s strategic plan calls for the Joint Force to conduct humanitarian, disaster relief and related operations.  The plan identifies requirements to extend aid to victims of natural or man-made disasters and conduct evacuation operations.  Some disasters, however, due to grave risks to the health and wellbeing of rescue and aid workers, prove too great in scale or scope for timely and effective human response.  The DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) will attempt to address this capability gap by promoting innovation in robotic technology for disaster-response operations.


The primary technical goal of the DRC is to develop ground robots capable of executing complex tasks in dangerous, degraded, human-engineered environments.  Competitors in the DRC are expected to focus on robots that can use standard tools and equipment commonly available in human environments, ranging from hand tools to vehicles, with an emphasis on adaptability to tools with diverse specifications.


To achieve its goal, the DRC aims to advance the current state of the art in the enabling technologies of supervised autonomy in perception and decision-making, mounted and dismounted mobility, dexterity, strength, and platform endurance.  Success with supervised autonomy, in particular, could allow control of robots by non-expert operators, lower the operator’s workload, and allow effective operation even with low-fidelity (low bandwidth, high latency, intermittent) communications.


The DRC consists of both robotics hardware and software development tasks and is structured to increase the diversity of innovative solutions by encouraging participation from around the world, including universities, small, medium and large businesses, and even individuals and groups with ideas on how to advance the field of robotics.  Detailed descriptions of the participant tracks are available in the DRC Broad Agency Announcement.


A secondary goal of the DRC is to make software and hardware development for ground-robot systems more accessible to interested contributors, thereby lowering the cost of acquisition while increasing capabilities.  DARPA seeks to accomplish this by creating and providing government-furnished equipment (GFE) to some DRC participants in the form of a robotic hardware platform with arms, legs, torso and head.  Availability of this platform will allow teams without hardware expertise or hardware to participate.  Additionally, all teams will have access to a government-furnished simulator created by DARPA and populated with models of robots, robot components and field environments.  The simulator will be an open-source, real-time, operator-interactive virtual test bed, and the accuracy of the models used in it will be rigorously validated on a physical test bed.  DARPA hopes the creation of a widely available, validated, affordable, and community supported and enhanced virtual test environment will play a catalytic role in development of robotics technology, allowing new hardware and software designs to be evaluated without the need for physical prototyping.


The DRC Broad Agency Announcement was released on April 10, 2012.


The DRC kicked off on October 24, 2012, and is scheduled to run for approximately 27 months with three planned competitions, one virtual followed by two live. Events are planned for June 2013, December 2013 and December 2014.

To learn more, check out the DARPA Robotics Challenge page.

Tongal Video Competition Winners


Dear Citizens Of 2117 (Prize: 1st Place)

Dear Citizens Of 2117 (Prize: 1st Place)

Congratulations to Joel Levinson for their Transit of Venus Tongal Video Competition entry.

1st Place ($10,000 Prize)
Credit: Joel Levinson

The World The 5th (Prize: 2nd Place)

The World The 5th (Prize: 2nd Place)

Congratulations to German Marin for their Transit of Venus Tongal Video Competition entry.

2nd Place ($4000 Prize)
Credit: German Marin

A Moment In Time (Prize: 3rd Place)

A Moment In Time (Prize: 3rd Place)

Congratulations to Ryan Carter for their Transit of Venus Tongal Video Competition entry.

3rd Place ($3000 Prize)
Credit: Ryan Carter

The Beauty of the Universe (Prize: 4th Place)

The Beauty of The Universe (Prize: 4th Place)

Congratulations to Sean Clark for their Transit of Venus Tongal Video Competition entry.

4th Place ($2000 Prize)
Credit: Sean Clark

I Thought of you (Prize: 5th Place)

I Thought of you (Prize: 5th Place)

Congratulations to Ben Redmond for their Transit of Venus Tongal Video Competition entry.

5th Place ($1000 Prize)
Credit: Ben Redmond

Honorable Mentions

Kaleidascope (Prize: Artistic Merit)

Kaleidascope (Prize: Artistic Merit)

Congratulations to Brain Adler for their Transit of Venus Tongal Video Competition entry.

Artistic merit ($1000 Prize)
Credit: Brian Adler

Time Sphere (Prize: Artistic Merit)

Time Sphere (Prize: Artistic Merit)

Congratulations to Robert Capria for their Transit of Venus Tongal Video Competition entry.

Artistic merit ($1000 Prize)
Credit: Robert Capria

Something to Count On (Prize: Honorable Mention)

Something to Count On (Prize: Honorable Mention)

Congratulations to Lewie Kloste for their Transit of Venus Tongal Video Competition entry.

Honorable Mention ($1000 Prize)
Credit: Lewie Kloste

Transit RAP (Prize: Honorable Mention)

Transit RAP (Prize: Honorable Mention)

Congratulations to Matt Donato for their Transit of Venus Tongal Video Competition entry.

Honorable Mention ($1000 Prize)
Credit: Matt Donato

The Study of Transits (Prize: Honorable Mention)

The Study of Transits (Prize: Honorable Mention)

Congratulations to Andrew Bennett for their Transit of Venus Tongal Video Competition entry.

Honorable Mention ($1000 Prize)
Credit: Andrew Bennett