The $30 million Google Lunar X Prize has not yet succeeded in landing a private robot on the moon, but student inventors have shown the way with their own similar contest on Earth. The top three teams of the MoonBots 2.0 competition have now emerged victorious by creating Lego robots that can carry out simulated moon operations without any human orders.
Students built and programmed their robots using Lego Mindstorm NXT kits, ran the bots through a three-minute mission that simulated lunar landing missions planned for the Google Lunar X prize, and then submitted a video of the run. Judges scored 20 finalist teams based on the mission score, robot design, creativity and scientific merit of a community outreach project, and required blogging updates.
The competition was sponsored by the X Prize Foundation and the Legogroup. It drew direct inspiration from the Google Lunar X Prize that aims to land a robot on the lunar surface, have it travel at least 1,650 feet (500 meters) and send data and images back to Earth. The first privately funded team to pull off that feat will win a $20 million grand prize.
"We are thrilled to see high levels of interest among younger audiences in MoonBots and Google Lunar X Prize," said Chanda Gonzales, Google Lunar X prize education manager. "This is a terrific opportunity for them to work on projects that could turn into future careers in space exploration."
Grand prize for MoonBots 2.0 went to Team LegoAces of Granville, Ohio, which earned a trip to Legoland Florida in October. Team Just Ducky of Woodbury, Minn., was awarded second place, and third place went to Team Lunar Lords of Bellevue, Wash.
All three teams also receive free team registration for the 2012 FIRST robotics season — an international high school competition involving tens of thousands of students worldwide.
Their victory didn't come easily. During a "live mission webcast," their robots had to dismount from a landing platform and visit both a large and small crater to retrieve Lego pieces representing water ice and helium 3.
The robots also had to take a picture of an image representing the Apollo-era lunar rover and lunar landing base, and survive a "lunar night" by climbing on top of a certain spot for 5 seconds. Finally, they had to return to their landing pad without a problem. And like any good tourists, they each carried video cameras to film the entire mock moon mission.