NASA Offers Coders $10,000 Prize to Improve Robonaut's Vision


The first humanoid robot in space needs your help. NASA is offering $10,000 in prizes to coders who create algorithms that improve the “vision” of Robonaut 2, the robot currently being tested on the International Space Station.

Robonaut 2, or R2, serves as an extra hand aboard the ISS, taking care of repetitive, time-consuming jobs like fastening bolts with a drill and using an RFID reader to manage inventory. But NASA is hoping to make R2 more self-reliant—starting with how it identifies objects. According to the agency:

In order to use a tool, R2 relies on an algorithm to determine a 3-D representation of the tool. The algorithm works with the robot’s control system and allows R2 to create a plan for grasping objects and completing its tasks. Existing algorithms assume that high-resolution images are always available. New algorithms are needed that can determine differences in objects based on noisy, stereo vision data.

The goal of the contest, which runs through March 8, is to “to create algorithms that will receive a pair of noisy stereo images of common space tools such as an RFID reader, an EVA handrail, or a softbox, among others, and determine the 3D representation of the object in the image pair," according to TopCoder

This isn't the first time NASA has outsourced its needs to the masses: The space agency also holds an annual contest for high school students to create the next dishes that will be served on the ISS.