NASA Centennial Challenge, Touch Tomorrow Draw 7,000 Visitors to WPI

June 16, 2012

NASA Centennial Challenge, Touch Tomorrow Draw 7,000 Visitors to WPI

Visit for details about this year’s festival.

Some 7,000 visitors participated in Touch Tomorrow at WPI, the interactive festival  of science, technology and robots, which was held on campus June 16 in conjunction with the NASA Sample Return Robot Centennial Challenge.

While robotics teams from the United States and Canada put their machines to the test at nearby Institute Park, visitors at Touch Tomorrow met Robonaut 2, the first humanoid robot in space, had their photographs taken in a NASA space suit, designed and flew paper airplanes, visited a virtual space station, controlled a NASA robot and participated in a variety of fun and educational activities.

“Touch Tomorrow is our way of sharing our excitement about NASA’s recognition of WPI as a world leader in the development of robotics science and engineering,” said WPI President Dennis Berkey. “At WPI, we are passionate about the mission to promote and advance science and technology education to students at the K-12 levels.

“Touch Tomorrow, which we hope will become an annual event, is designed to inspire young people, their families and teachers through exposure to and interaction with advanced aerospace and robotics technology.”

NASA’s Centennial Challenge, is a series of competitions created to inspire innovation for use in space. The Sample Return Robot Challenge is looking for the next generation of robots to explore the landscapes of other worlds. The NASA-WPI Sample Return Robot Challenge requires the competing teams to design and build an autonomous robotic system that will locate and collect a set of specific objects from a large area and return the “planetary samples” to the starting zone.

None of the 11 teams that registered for the NASA Sample Return Robot Centennial Challenge were able to meet the demanding criteria to advance to the second level of the competition, and the chance to win $1.5 million in prize money.

“The team from the University of Waterloo was the only team that lasted the full 15 minutes before they had to shut down for lack of time,” said Ken Stafford, director of WPI’s Robotics Resource Center, who worked with NASA to set up the event. “They didn’t have any problems, they just didn’t pick up any objects. No one picked up any objects. We have no one that’s going to continue on to level 2 tomorrow. In fact, we give out no money tonight. But, they’re all in excellent condition, all rarin’ to go next year.

Stafford said NASA will continue the Centennial Challenge competition at WPI again next year.

“Absolutely. We are happy with it, and from everything I’ve heard, NASA is thrilled by our venue. We will  certainly endeavor to have it. It will be a different competition site, but it will be hosted by WPI.”


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