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Author Topic: WVU Robotics team wins NASA Robot Competition, can Bitcoin help it happen again?  (Read 1928 times)
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May 25, 2014, 09:12:17 AM
Last edit: July 31, 2014, 02:14:19 PM by notme

First of all, I would like to thank the Bitcoin community.  Without the support and guidance of many of the members here, I would not have been in the position to be able to return to school and work on my masters in computer science without taking on more debt.  From the pioneering miners and programmers in the early days of GPUs to the economics and speculation subfourms.  As some of you may have noticed, I have not been very active this past semester.  I'm sure there are many more who have never seen me post.  The reason I've been absent is because this semester I joined my school's team for NASA's Robotic Mining Competition.  NASA puts on this competition every year to help promote STEM education as well as to learn from a diverse set of teams.  Before I bore you with the details, you can watch our final run at the competition.  I am the tallest one at the interview afterwards.

We had some minor communications issues at the beginning which is why it took 45 seconds to start, but we now understand what is wrong.  We simply weren't able to fix it in time for the run, but once we started, autonomy doesn't need communications.  Even manual control saw little lag.

As you can see in the video, our team took first place in mining.  We also took first place in outreach by devoting nearly 850 man hours to reach more than 4000 students throughout the year.  In addition, members of our team also fielded questions from visiting students and students from around the country via skype.  We also won second place for our technical demonstration and slide presentation.  For our technical presentation, we brought in our previous year's robot as well as this years and showed the changes we had made.  In addition we demoed the localization algorithm I focused the majority of my efforts on using real data we had collected from driving manually in the arena.  The top prize money at RMC is awarded based on a combination of mining, presentation, outreach, team spirit, and a technical paper.  We did not place in the top three for our paper or spirit, and this kept us from getting enough points to win that purse.

I'll cut to the chase.  There is a good chance this will not happen again next year.  Our school is involved in several robotic competitions, and our sponsorship money is spread too thin.  The other competitions have larger purses and the prize money is determined purely on technical merit.  As you can see in the video, our robot has several stickers.  Bitcoin stickers could be placed on the Robot and could also possibly be placed on the scoop or dump bin, which are very visible on the video feeds within the arena.  Personally, I like the idea of it being revealed as the dump bin is finally emptied.  We could also put a Bitcoin sticker on our tool chest, which is at the edge of our pit, where school groups, astronauts, judges, and any other guests of NASA's Kennedy Space Center's visitors center browse throughout the day.  I really have no clue what it would take the make the project happen again next year, I would have to speak with my advisor, but he is travelling for the next few weeks.  I do know the total cost this year was $30,000.  So, for $30,000 or potentially less, Bitcoin could be the primary sponsor.  This included all the parts and materials, transportation to and from the competition, as well as the hotel and food.  Additionally, I have been teaching computer science courses and labs for the past four semesters.  While this is rewarding, I would prefer to devote my time to this team.  I would put in 40 hours per week with 10 for outreach, 20 in the lab, and 10 at home working on code.  During the last 4 weeks before competition and during competition I will probably work 60 hours a week.  Would with some extra funding I could have a research assistant position.  Our university, colleges, departments, and any vendors that provide discounts will of course be featured as well but Bitcoin would be prominent.  If you are interested in supporting us, please post how much you would be willing to contribute.  If there is enough pledged, I will talk my advisor into another year.  I personally have a Casacius Series 1 Bitcoin that I will contribute if we can secure enough funding.  I will auction it off in the auction subforum.  If you have any questions, I will try to answer them in the next few days.  I just got home after 12 hours in the van and then unloading and I have had very little sleep this week, plus I am visiting a friend for a couple of days when I wake up.

Here are some photos of the rockets, the shuttle, and our outreach award.

All of the judges are NASA engineers and scientists and they primarily take notes for their own education and to share with their various labs.  For example, one of the judges we talked to explained how our robot helped open his eyes to the fact that digging your wheels in can be an advantage rather than something to avoid.  He will take this knowledge back to his lab where they design the actual rovers that go to the moon, mars, and hopefully one day soon, an asteroid.  I have some ideas on how to  improve our traction even more.  Additionally, I am confident I can get that thing to move much quicker and dig much more autonomously.  We actually have the capability to deposit autonomously as well, but it couldn't mine as well as the human operators and it would only gain us the equivalent of 33.3kg.  We can usually mine that in one run, but as you saw our operator got too aggressive with the scoop and tipped forward, dumping much of the regolith we had collected.  I believe I understand the physics of the problem and we should have that fixed in the next year's design.

If you donate to my signature address, please understand I am under no obligation to use those funds in any particular way, although it will probably go toward living expenses.  This post will be updated later with an official donation address once enough pledges are made and my advisor approves the sponsorship.  I am, however, trying to finish my thesis this summer while I freelance.  Any donations or job offers would be appreciated.  I would prefer something that utilizes my expertise in probabilistic simulation.  This includes particle filters, genetic algorithms, and physics simulation.  I prefer payment in Bitcoin.  Now, I'm going to sleep for a day.
While no idea is perfect, some ideas are useful.
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