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NASA wants your help designing an arm for its flying space station robot


In yet another crowdsourcing effort, NASA is asking members of the public to help with the design of the Astrobee — a free-flying robot the space agency is making to live aboard the International Space Station. Specifically, NASA wants help creating a robotic arm for the Astrobee, which the robot will use to interact with the space station environment. Those interested in submitting designs for the arm can register through a newly opened contest.

The Astrobee will autonomously roam throughout the ISS cabin

The Astrobee builds upon MIT's SPHERES project — three free-flying robots that have lived on the station since 2006. Scheduled to launch in 2017, the Astrobee will autonomously roam throughout the ISS cabin, using sensors to conduct inspections or cameras to film the astronauts at work. The robot is also going to have a tiny arm that it can use to perch on surfaces or interact with small objects. NASA is working on its own design for the arm, but the space agency wants to see what other ideas people might have in mind.

The contest, called the NASA System Architecture Task, is already open for entries. Participants must first register for the contest by filling out a survey that assess their academic merits and how much free time they have to devote to the project; more than 1,500 people have submitted the form so far. Eventually NASA will select 30 of the people who have registered to go on to complete the task. Those who are selected will receive $10 and a finalized breakdown of all the elements they must deliver to NASA in order to win. The finalists who fulfill all these requirements will get $100 each, but there's no word yet on how much the winner (or winners) will get. It's also not clear how NASA will incorporate any winning concepts.

This is just the latest in a number of contests that NASA has hosted on, as part of the NASA Tournament Lab Challenges. Last year, NASA used the website to ask for potential smartwatch applications that the astronauts could use on the station, and the space agency has hosted many contests to get new logos for its various projects.