How NASA Is Giving Its Robot Astronaut New Eyes

Robonaut needs new peepers? Bring on the coding competition.

NASA is launching two competitions with TopCoder.com designed to give its Robonaut better machine vision--with the ultimate goal of making the robot astronaut more autonomous and eventually take over more dangerous roles from human astronauts.

NASA wants coders to come up with algorithms that will help Robonaut see and identify controls on a dashboard that Robonaut is being tested on aboard the International Space Station. Once the machine recognition is working, the second competition is to use those initial algorithms to identify an object and then reach its arm out to interact with it safely. If this sounds like overkill, it's really not--safety is critical inside as dangerous an environment as the ISS or, in the end, when the robot is operating outside the station and the rapidly changing lighting in orbit makes machine vision trickier than in the home or on a factory floor.

Image: NASA

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