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NASA, if you haven’t heard, is partially crowdsourcing the design of its next robot. And today, it announced which teams’ submissions are destined for orbit.

Mechanical engineering student Nino Wunderlin, conceptual engineer Myrdal Manzano, and software developer Amit Biswas will see their attachment and deployment mechanisms adapted to fit Astrobee, a free-flying robot intended to replace three MIT-designed robots that have operated on the International Space Station (ISS) since 2006. It’s part of NASA’s research into SPHERES, short for “synchronized position hold engage and reorient experimental satellites.”

When the cube-shaped, one-by-one-foot Astrobee is formally deployed sometime in 2019, it’ll have cameras, sensors, a touchscreen, and a robotic arm, plus lasers and a fan-based system that will help it navigate the ISS’s cramped quarters and corridors. Astrobee will perform tasks like equipment monitoring, sensor testing, sound level monitoring, air quality analysis, and other chores. And NASA’s Mission Control Center at the Johnson Space Center in Houston will use it to perform tasks autonomously.

Astrobee is designed to remain active for the life of the ISS, which is scheduled to be decommissioned by 2024.

NASA kicked off the program — dubbed the NASA System Architecture Task — in 2016. It’s open to the public, but applicants have to complete an academic knowledge test and commit a certain amount of time to project development. So far, it’s been highly competitive — in the first phase, of the thousands of people who entered, only 30 went onto receive $10 and a finalized breakdown of the elements they needed to win.

“NASA has grown in the multiple ways we engage the crowd to provide solutions to challenges we face when advancing complex space systems,” Jason Crusan, NASA’s director of Advanced Exploration Systems and head of NASA’s Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation, said in a statement. “This challenge continues that expansion and will help to create novel designs but also allow us to learn about sophisticated system design through the use of open innovation.”

Cash prizes ranging from $250 to $5,000, drawn from a prize pool of about $25,000. The deadline for entries is September 30, 2018.

It’s not the first time NASA has teamed up with the public to produce robots. In 2015, the agency’s Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation (CoECI) collaborated with to source CAD models of tools used by Robonaut 2 (R2), a humanoid “astronaut assistant.”


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