In her Westbury, NY, home, Valerie Varnuska often follows robotics competitions on television. Valerie Varnuska appreciates the way robotics has grown and wishes there were even more competitions to watch.
In 2012, NASA began a five-year-long robotics challenge known as the Sample Return Robot Challenge. Teams competed to build robots that could solve real-life problems as part of NASA’s Centennial Challenges Program.
The West Virginia University Mountaineers dominated the competition at every turn and performed especially well in the final Level 2 event in late 2016. The team regularly put more than 100 hours a week into their robot, dubbed Cataglyphis. Their crowning achievement was getting Cataglyphis to make decisions autonomously, a major part of the competition.
The robot was able to navigate a 20-acre park autonomously, traversing difficult terrain and picking up four samples in a two-hour span. This victory earned the team a $750,000 prize, raising their five-year total winnings to $855,000.