On Thursday, August 3, Danielle Wood and the Space Enabled research group work with the Innovation Learning Center and a wide team of collaborators to host a special event that connects youth with space! The event is the Finals for the Summer 2023 Middle School Zero Robotics programming competition. Through Zero Robotics, Professor Wood and the team invite students and educators across the United States to learn to program robots that operate on the International Space Station. At MIT on August 3, Space Enabled hosts a hybrid event to watch the final stage of the 2023 Zero Robotics tournament. Teams that bring together students from multiple states have collaborated to write that they hope will earn the highest score in this year's game challenge.
At MIT on August 3, Space Enabled welcome local students and educators who participated in Zero Robotics to watch the event in person. Members of the MIT community are also welcome to watch in person in Bartos Theatre (E15-70)! In addition to the in-person event, teams from across the country join virtually to view a live connection with the International Space Station (ISS), hosted from space by a NASA astronaut. The webcast of the event is free and open to the public using the link above and the recording can be watched afterward.
Zero Robotics offers a five week summer program for middle school students and educators with a focus on being accessible to people with limited or no experience with programming. The summer program invited teams of Middle School students and educators to learn to write code for the NASA Astrobee robotic platform (operated on the International Space Station). In 2022, for the Middle School Finals event, Space Enabled led the Zero Robotics program to achieve the first experience operating with student code on the Astrobee robots.
The game challenge for the 2023 Middle School Zero Robotics Finals is called "Lunabee." The game invites students to imagine that their Astrobee robot is operating on the surface of the moon to collect lunar dust samples. In this imagined mission, an Astronaut needs to signal Astrobee which dust sample sites are active for collection. The signal is given by the Astronaut using American Sign Language hand gestures to show a number between 1 and 9 to Astrobee. Based on the numbers that Astrobee receives from the robot, students need to program Astrobee to follow a set of rules to maximize the points they can collect by gathering lunar dust.
To prepare for the Lunabee challenge, Team Space Enabled has applied machine learning methods to train Astrobee to recognize hand gestures. This work and the other efforts to guide Zero Robotics use of Astrobee is lead by doctoral student Yiyun Zhang and postdoctoral scholar Dr. Scott Dorrington. Through their technical leadership, Space Enabled has become the first Astrobee Guest Scientists to demonstrate guesture recognition on the ISS with Astrobee.
Founded over a decade ago by MIT’s Alvar Saenz-Otero, Jacob Katz and David Miller and co-led by a team from Innovation Learning Center and Aurora Flight Sciences, Zero Robotics is an educational program that hosts tournaments to teach middle and high school students to write code and program with robots on the International Space Station (ISS). The Zero Robotics program originally allowed students to use robotics called SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellites); this system was developed by the MIT Space Systems Laboratory, in conjunction with NASA, DARPA, and Aurora Flight Sciences, to provide a safe and reusable zero gravity platform to test sensor, control, and autonomy technologies for use in satellites.
This year's Zero Robotics program is sponsored by NASA, Aerospace Corporation, Aurora Flight Sciences, and the ISS National Laboratory which is operated by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space. MIT collaborates with the Innovation Learning Center and many other nonprofits and educational programs to implement Zero Robotics and serve students and educators.