NASA is holding a contest to improve Robonaut 2's vision

The agency is giving away $10,000 to entice able coders to participate.

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Mariella Moon
February 24, 2016 10:23 AM
In this article: nasa, robonaut2, robots, science, space

NASA's spacefaring humanoid robot needs help. Robonaut 2's vision is failing, because its sensors are old and had been affected by exposure to high levels of radiation in space. To solve the issue, the agency has launched a contest asking coders to create algorithms that will enable the robot to "see" better. R2 is currently serving as a helper/repair-robot of sorts aboard the ISS. It's in charge of managing the station's inventory using an RFID reader and does minor repair jobs, such as fastening loose bolts, to give astronauts more time for their experiments.

The robot needs tools to be able to perform those tasks, that's why its ability to clearly discern objects is critical. See, R2 uses an algorithm to determine the 3D representations of tools based on what it sees. It then examines those 3D models to figure out how to pick up and wield a particular tool. Problem is, most algorithms need high-res images of those objects to work, and R2's failing vision sensors aren't capable of supplying crisp and clear photos anymore.

R2 needs new algorithms, ones that can detect the different types of space tools even when they're looking at noisy stereo images. Anyone interested in joining the contest will have to make sure their creation is capable of analyzing grainy, subpar pictures and distinguishing between RFID readers and power drills. NASA is giving away $10,000 in prizes, so those with the skills to conjure up the algorithm NASA needs may want to check out the contest details.

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