I have two goals in writing the material on this site about the NASA Sample Return Robot (SRR) Centennial Challenge. One is to show how I approached the problem of the SRR as a software engineer with decades of experience, a good deal of it in embedded systems. Hopefully sharing this will be of benefit to others, especially young people interested in robotics. The other is to analyze the problem for myself and others interested in the SRR. I began writing this in 2011 after hearing about the SRR. I was intrigued by the challenge but unsure if I would muster the resources, including the intestinal fortitude, to actually enter. As it turned out I was not able to enter for the 2012 SRR but did make the 2013 SRR.
Currently, in late 2013, I am revising the earlier material and putting it under the 2014 Table of Contents heading in the sidebar. Older material will remain under the Table of Contents. In both, the Analysis at 30,000 feet page is a good starting point along with 2014 NASA Sample Return Robot Centennial Challenge which summarizes the requirements.
For more detailed information on the SRR the official site is hosted by Worcester Polytechnic Institute, who organizes and runs the challenge for NASA. They were excellent hosts in 2013 and, as I understand from other participants, in 2012.
In 2012 a number of teams competed but only one, SpacePride, passed the safety and compliance checks. That team was unable to complete the phase one activity. In September 2012, NASA released a NASA 360 video about the competition. At the first showing, on the web, they had a chat room where a number of the teams participated. It was during the chat that NASA said the challenge would be run again in 2013.
In 2013 there were 14 teams registered but only eleven arrived for the challenge. One team left after having some problems with wiring. The remaining teams all qualified to compete. One of those was my three rovers, The Mystics. The Phase 1 competition was run on Wednesday and, since nobody completed Phase 1, it was repeated on Thursday. On Thursday three teams picked up the cached sample, one team returned to the starting platform without a sample, and two teams made it back to the platform with the sample. Unfortunately, one team that made it back stopped with the sample slightly beyond the rear edge of the starting platform and this did not comply with the rules. The other team did stop with the sample in the correct location. There is a video from NASA 360 with some shorter videos, Kicking Bot and Rover Madness. The Mystics appear in these videos, mainly rolled over with wheels spinning in the air or trapped by a concrete chunk. The official site at WPI has some commentary about the event.