Twenty robotics teams, ranging from university students to small businesses, are preparing to compete June 8-13 in the fourth running of the NASA Sample Return Robot Challenge for a prize purse of $1.5 million.

At the autonomous robot competition held at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts, teams must demonstrate their robot can locate and collect geologic samples from a large and varied landscape, without human control, through two levels of competition that grow in complexity. The objective is to encourage innovations in autonomous navigation and robotic manipulation technologies. These innovations may enhance NASA’s space exploration capabilities and could have applications on Earth, continuing the nation’s leadership in robotic technology.

“With missions to other planets and deeper space in our sights, it is increasingly valuable and necessary to see these technologies through,” said Sam Ortega, program manager for Centennial Challenges at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “Robots are our pioneers, and solving this challenge will be a breakthrough for future space exploration.”

NASA awarded $5,000 for Level 1 challenge completion to Team Survey of Los Angeles in 2013 and the West Virginia Mountaineers of Morgantown in 2014. Both teams are eligible to begin the 2015 competition at Level 2.

Other returning teams are:

Formicarum of Worcester, Massachusetts

Gather of Alexandria, Virginia

Lunambotics of Mexico City

Middleman of Dunedin, Florida

Oregon State University of Corvallis

The Retrievers of Schenectady, New York

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Rock Raiders of Troy, New York

Wunderkammer of Topanga, California

The new teams are:

Army of Angry Robots of Silicon Valley, California

DT Bozzelli of Ann Arbor, Michigan

MAXed OUT of San Jose, California

Mind and Iron of Needham, Massachusetts

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Robotics Team of Cambridge

RoboRetrievers of Tampa, Florida

Sirius of South Hadley, Massachusetts

Smart Move of Clearwater, Florida

Smart Tools of Gurnee, Illinois

National Autonomous University of Mexico

The Sample Return Robot Challenge is managed by NASA’s Centennial Challenges program, which falls under the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) in Washington. Through such challenges, STMD seeks out the best and brightest minds in academia, industry and government to drive innovation and enable solutions in important technology focus areas.

A Ustream feed of the Sample Return Challenge will be available at:

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