Although NASA already hires the best and brightest in the scientific world, it also understands that it can sometimes take a fresh mind to solve a complex problem. This is why it's now teaming up with Freelancer.com to invite freelancers from all over the world to contribute to the design of the Astrobee free-flying robot.
The competition posted by NASA on Freelancer.com invites people from all over the world to help design a robotic arm for its next generation free-flying robot Astrobee, the successor to the SPHERES robot that is currently on board the ISS.
Astrobee is intended to be a jack-of-all-trades robot that can augment the human crew on the space station. Proposed functions of the bot include routine or repetitive tasks such as surveys and inspections, while it might also serve as a mobile sensor platform or even as a mobile camera and cameraman all in one to film special events. An autonomous design additionally means that it won't need to interface or interfere with the station itself.
The robot arm is a new addition for this type of robot, allowing Astrobee to interact with small objects and to better manoeuvre itself around the station. Its design isn't passing entirely into the hands of freelancers, however — NASA is designing its own version of the robot arm, but it hopes that the open contest will provide interesting design concepts that can be integrated into their own final design. The full plan is split into three phases:
1. Phase 1, starting on January 14, will be a registration process that will allow NASA to select the top thirty freelancers that enter the first task of the competition. 2. Phase 2 will require each of the thirty selected freelancers to break down options for the system architecture. Generating the system architecture for a product or system is a widely understood and used process to describe all the elements that make up the complete product or system. Even though this is a widely used process, there are always multiple ways to decompose or break down any given system. NASA wants freelancers to help them figure out multiple ways to approach creating a decomposed architecture of a complex system. 3. Phase 3 will see NASA crowdsource the detailed designs of many of those subcomponents based on the specifications created by the thirty freelancers in phase 2 along with those from NASA’s team using the wider pool of over 17 million freelancers on Freelancer.com.
"NASA has grown in the multiple ways we engage the crowd to provide solutions to challenges we face when advancing complex space systems," says NASA’s Director of Advanced Exploration Systems, Jason Crusan. "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. We continue to explore the many ways to engage external innovators."
Do you have something to offer to Astrobee's design? The competition is recommended for people with skills in engineering, industrial design, project management, robotics and software architecture, but if you have any other applicable skills then there's nothing to stop you from entering. Why wouldn't you want to work on a project that's going to live on the ISS, 400km above the Earth's surface? If you've got an idea, you can enter NASA's competition on Freelancer.com here.