Zero Robotics is a student competition that takes "arena robotics" to new heights, literally. The robots are miniature satellites called SPHERES, and the finals are aboard the International Space Station!
We had a "Pilot" event in 2009 with ten High School students (grades 9-12), a Nationwide Pilot in 2010 with over 200 High School students from 19 US states and a summer program (NASA Summer of Innovation) in 2010 with over 150 middle school students (grades 5-8).
The video below shows a summary of the 2010 Summer of Innovation competition:
How does it work?
"Zero Robotics" is a robotics programming competition that opens the world-class research facilities on the International Space Station (ISS) to high-school students. Students will actually write programs at their High School that may control a satellite in space! The goal is to build critical engineering skills for students, such as problem solving, design thought process, operations training, and team work. Ultimately we hope to inspire future scientists and engineers so that they will view working in space as "normal", and will grow up pushing the limits of engineering and space exploration.
The participants compete to win a technically challenging game by programming their strategies into the SPHERES satellites. The programs are demonstrated first on the ground hardware and eventually in a final competition that runs the student software aboard the ISS. The game is motivated by a challenging problem of interest to DARPA, NASA and MIT. Teams compete by programming a SPHERES satellite to achieve the game objectives while competing or collaborating with other contestants. These satellites race against each other to win the game. The programs must be "autonomous" - that is, the students cannot control the satellites during the test itself. The tournament progresses in phases from 2D to 3D so that both 3DOF (on Earth) and 6DOF (on ISS) demonstrations are possible. The astronauts run the final robotics competition on the ISS, act as referees and interact with participating students via a live video broadcast in a large event at MIT, webcast live to all participants so that remote viewing is possible.
Student teams can create, edit, save and simulate projects online. They may use a High Level Language (HLL) editor or a C editor to write code, simulate their program immediately and see the results in a flash animation. The HLL editor allows them to drag and drop blocks in the visual programming interface and create code diagrammatically – very useful for students with little or no prior programming experience. The simulation uses a high-fidelity 3D model of the SPHERES satellites. MIT provides the simulation and C programming interfaces via the Zero Robotics website, therefore no special software is required. The simulation also enables teams to compete against themselves, against pre-coded standard players and challenge other teams informally; students have ample opportunities to test different versions of their strategies before submitting their code for a formal competition. All submissions to challenge others and to the competition are via the website. Students also have access to online tutorials and an MIT technical support system.
Who is involved?
Each Zero Robotics Team has the following participants:
- Students: between 5 to 20 High School students (grades 9-12) from U.S.A. schools. There are no restrictions on age, gender, nationality, etc. The only restriction is that the students be enrolled in High School or an equivalent accredited program. Students can come from different regional high schools and form a "district" team.
- Primary mentor: at least one mentor/advisor who will guide the team throughout the competition. The mentor should have good background in programming (a HS programming or math teacher is great), so that the students can get the help they need.
- Volunteers: we encourage teams to find volunteers from their communities, including local colleges and professionals (such as NASA employees), to help them with programming and strategy. Since we recommend forming sub-teams to improve strategies, it is encouraged that each sub-team has a mentor available.
Looking for a Mentor? Click here!
Want to volunteer to be a mentor? Click here!
Website Disclaimer: This website is in Beta version and may experience problems during the summer of 2011. We welcome feedback during that period, with the understanding that the MIT SSL/TopCoder/Aurora teams are actively upgrading the site in preparation for the 2011 Tournament Kickoff in September 10, 2011. In the meanwhile, potential participants may sign-up at http://zerorobotics.mit.edu/index.php/try-zr for a guest account in order to learn more about the SPHERES programming environment.
ISS Disclaimer: The finals competition aboard the ISS depends on availability of astronaut time. While every effort will be made by MIT and NASA to maintain the proposed schedule, unforeseen events at NASA or the ISS might delay or cancel the ISS finals.