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TouchTomorrow: An Interactive Festival of Science, Technology and Robots

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

This weekend Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and NASA are bringing the future to life, and inviting New England’s families to join the fun. 

Last year NASA selected WPI as host and manager of its latest Centennial Challenge – the Sample Return Robot (SRR) Challenge – where teams from across North America will vie for a total prize purse of $1.5 million that was designed to improve NASA's capability to explore a variety of destinations in space, as well as enhance the nation's robotics technology for use in industries and applications here on Earth.  

To celebrate this event, and to recognize the achievement of being the first university to manage a Centennial Challenge, WPI is inviting the region to its campus on Saturday, June 16, for TouchTomorrow, an interactive festival of hands-on exhibits and activities focused on our scientific and technological future.  The festival will run simultaneously with the SRR Challenge, which will be taking place on and near the WPI campus. 
 
“TouchTomorrow is our way of sharing our excitement about NASA’s recognition of WPI as a world leader in the development of robotics science and engineering,” said Dennis D. Berkey, president and CEO of WPI.  “At WPI, we are passionate about the mission to promote and advance science and technology education to students at the K-12 levels.  TouchTomorrow, which we hope will become an annual event, is designed to inspire young people, their families, and their teachers through exposure to and interaction with advanced aerospace and robotics technology.” 

TouchTomorrow will be held Saturday, June 16, from 10AM to 5PM throughout the WPI campus.  The activities and exhibits are designed to be enjoyed by all ages, with an emphasis on inspiring children to see how thrilling and fun science and technology can be.  Admission is free; food and drink will be available.

A sampling of TouchTomorrow’s outdoor and indoor exhibits and activities:  
  • Meet Robonaut 2, the first humanoid robot to visit space
  • Take your photo in a NASA spacesuit
  • Trek across the lunar surface with NASA’s Lunar Quest
  • Explore Magic Planet, and visit the moon, other planets, and the far reaches of space
  • Bounce bubbles
  • Investigate the life-cycle of a star
  • “Kinect” with a NASA virtual robot
  • Take the paper airplane design challenge
  • Visit the virtual space station
  • Command the NASA Marcbot, and visit the Inflatable Space Rover
  • Watch out for our robot tour guide
In addition to the interactive activities, TouchTomorrow attendees will have opportunities to meet NASA astronauts Chris Ferguson and Lee Morin; explore and engage with research projects being conducted by WPI faculty and students; and of course, watch the SRR Challenge.  At 1:30pm, space shuttle pilot Ferguson will speak in Olin Hall on America’s future in space.

FIRST Robotics teams, including the FIRST Lego League, will be demonstrating robot capabilities throughout the day.  Dozens of additional exhibits and activities will be offered from the following organizations:
  • MIT
  • Destination Imagination
  • EcoTarium
  • Worcester Historical Museum
  • Discovery Museum
  • Society of Women Engineers
  • American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
  • National Society of Black Engineers
  • Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers
  • WPI Bookstore
NASA and the Sample Return Robot Challenge 
NASA’s Centennial Challenges were created to  drive progress in aerospace technology of value to NASA's missions;  encourage the participation of independent teams, individual inventors, student groups and private companies of all sizes in aerospace research and development; and find the most innovative solutions to technical challenges through competition and cooperation.

The Sample Return Robot (SRR) Challenge will require the five competing teams to design and build an autonomous robotic system that will locate and collect a set of specific sample types from a large area and then return the samples to the starting zone.  The roving area will include a variety of terrains and hazards.  A pre-cached sample and several other samples will be located in smaller sampling zones within the larger roving area.  Teams will be given aerial/geological/topographic maps with appropriate orbital resolution, including the location of the starting position and a pre-cached sample. 

  • A Level-1 prize will be awarded to the team whose robot autonomously navigates at all times and retrieves a pre-cached sample within the 15-minute time limit.  
  • To win a Level-2 prize, a robot must autonomously navigate at all times and must retrieve the pre-cached sample and other samples distributed over the roving area within the two-hour time limit. 
  • A total prize purse of $1.5 million is available from the Centennial Challenges Program.
NASA prize competitions establish an important goal without having to choose the approach or the team that is most likely to succeed, while only paying for results. NASA prize competitions also increase the number and diversity of individuals, organizations, and teams that are addressing a particular problem or challenge of national or international significance, while stimulating private sector investment that is many times greater than the cash value of the prize. Prizes also capture the public imagination and change people's perception of what is possible.

For more information about the NASA SRR Challenge, visit www.nasa.org/robot
 
Journalists and media representatives seeking additional information should contact Tom Bradley at 860/967-5357,  or Eileen Brangan Mell at 508/831-6785.
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