Imagine a world hot enough to turn lead into a puddle, where the atmospheric pressure can crush a nuclear-powered submarine. Now imagine sending a rover to explore that world.
Venus, ancient sister of Earth with a planetary environment just this side of hellish, has been visited by a handful of probes since the early days of space flight. Of the many missions to our celestial neighbor, only about a dozen have made contact with the surface of the planet. The longest-lived landers only managed to function for a couple of hours before succumbing to the relentlessly oppressive heat and pressure.
Despite the punishing conditions, previous missions to Venus have nevertheless delivered important information, such as:
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), under a grant from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, is studying a mission concept to return to the surface of Venus, known as the Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments (AREE), something not accomplished since the Soviet Vega 2 landed in 1985.
Current, state-of-the-art, military-grade electronics fail at approximately 125°C, so mission scientists at JPL have taken their design cues from a different source: automatons and clockwork operations. Powered by wind, the AREE mission concept is intended to spend months, not minutes, exploring the landscape of our sister world. Built of advanced alloys, AREE will be able to collect valuable long-term longitudinal scientific data utilizing both indirect and direct sensors.
As the rover explores the surface of Venus, collecting and relaying data to an orbiter overhead, it must also detect obstacles in its path like rocks, crevices, and steep terrain. To assist AREE on its groundbreaking mission concept, JPL needs an equally groundbreaking obstacle avoidance sensor, one that does not rely on vulnerable electronic systems. For that reason, JPL is turning to the global community of innovators and inventors to design this novel avoidance sensor for AREE. JPL is interested in all approaches, regardless of technical maturity.
This sensor will be the primary mechanism by which the potential rover would detect and navigates through dangerous situations during its operational life. By sensing obstacles such as rocks, crevices, and inclines, the rover would then navigate around the obstruction, enabling the rover to continue to explore the surface of Venus and collect more observational data.
JPL has issued this Challenge to the global community because the rover must have the ability to successfully navigate in such a demanding environment in order to qualify for additional developmental funding. While the mission to the surface of Venus may be years off, the development of a suitably robust rover sensor will strengthen the case for returning to Venus with a rover, something that has never been attempted before.
What You Can Do To Cause A Breakthrough
Using ancient approaches and modern material science, design a mechanical obstacle avoidance sensor for usage on an off-world planetary rover.
The goal of this single-stage challenge is to submit a fully mechanical sensor that meets the performance criteria listed below and can be incorporated into the existing AREE model – competitors do not need to demonstrate how their sensor will connect to the rover, only that their design can provide the desired functionality.
Below are several profile images of the rover, as currently envisioned by the design team:
The actuator in any proposed sensor must be able to move a 6 cm diameter pin by a minimum of 3 cm with 25 N of force when an obstacle is encountered. This, in turn, will then trigger the rover to back off the obstacle and seek a new pathway forward.
The sensor must reliably respond when encountering:
To assist competitors, the following image demonstrates possible scenarios that the rover may encounter during its mission:
Additional performance criteria:
The Challenge offers up to $30,000 USD in prize money.
In addition to the above cash prizes, competitors may also be considered for the following non-monetary awards:
Open to submissions February 18, 2020
Submission deadline May 29, 2020 @ 5pm ET
Judging June 1 to July 2, 2020
Winners Announced July 6, 2020
To be eligible for an award, your proposal must, at minimum:
|A. Likelihood of Successful Operation||Is the concept likely to meet the challenge obstacles avoidance requirements?||55% total|
|A.1||Does this submission include a compelling diagram/schematic of the proposed sensor?||15%|
|A.2||Does this submission include appropriate justification or citations for the proposed sensor?||5%|
|A.3||Would the system detect rocks/holes/valleys greater than 0.35 meters tall/deep?||10%|
|A.4||Would the system detect slopes or combinations of slopes/obstacles that could result in an angle of greater than 30 degrees?||10%|
|A.5||Would the system ignore rocks/holes/valleys less than 0.3 meters tall/deep?||10%|
|A.6||Would the design produce a 3 cm displacement of a shaft/pin with 25N of force?||5%|
Is the design compatible with the current rover architecture?
|B. Is the concept feasible to construct?|
Is the design something that could actually be constructed?
Are there any practical limitations to implementing the design?
|C. Can the concept be adjusted to work in Venus conditions|
Would the concept, if built out of the right materials, operate at Venus’s high temperatures?
Would the concept operate at Venus pressure?
NOTE: Competitors are encouraged to present citations (or other relevant supporting information) to bolster the case for their design’s suitability for this application. Citations may be made inline with text or may be included as a piece of supporting documentation.
NOTE: Responses should include a schematic or diagram of their proposed avoidance sensor design. The diagram should be attached as a supporting document. Acceptable file formats include: WORD, PDF or JPEG. Competitors wishing to include CAD files may do so: 2D CAD files can be shared as a PDF, 3D CAD files should be shared as a Parasolid . x_t file.
You may submit multiple solutions.
The Prize is open to anyone age 18 or older participating as an individual or as a team. Individual competitors and teams may originate from any country, as long as United States federal sanctions do not prohibit participation (see: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Pages/Programs.aspx). If you are a NASA employee, a Government contractor, or employed by a Government Contractor, your participation in this challenge may be restricted.
Submissions must be made in English. All challenge-related communication will be in English.
No specific qualifications or expertise in the field of mechanical sensors is required. NASA encourages outside individuals and non-expert teams to compete and propose new solutions.
To be eligible to compete, you must comply with all the terms of the challenge as defined in the Challenge-Specific Agreement.
Innovators who are awarded a prize for their submission must agree to grant NASA a royalty free, non-exclusive, irrevocable, world-wide license in all Intellectual Property demonstrated by the winning/awarded submissions. See the Challenge-Specific Agreement for complete details.
Registration and Submissions:
Submissions must be made online (only), via upload to the HeroX.com website, on or before 5:00 pm ET on May 29, 2020. No late submissions will be accepted.
Selection of Winners:
Based on the winning criteria, prizes will be awarded per the weighted Judging Criteria section above.
The determination of the winners will be made by HeroX based on evaluation by relevant NASA specialists.