Nasa turns to public to help improve Robonaut 3D vision
Nasa’s Robonaut 2 needs help with its sightNasa

Nasa wants to improve its International Space Station (ISS) humanoid robot and is turning to the public by launching a competition – The Robot Vision Tool Manipulation. The space agency hopes to lure coders in creating innovative algorithms that can help improve the robot.

Robonaut 2 or R2, is Nasa's creation and is currently serving as repair-robot aboard the ISS. It is responsible of maintaining the ISS' inventory and performing minor repair jobs on certain equipment aboard the spacecraft. However, R2 is losing its vision due to prolonged exposure of its sensors to high levels of radiation in space.

In efforts to find a fix for R2's diminishing vision issue, Nasa has launched the competition, which will reward contestants with a total of $10,000 (£7,176) for developing the best algorithm to enhance its sight.

Describing the magnitude of the competition, Nasa said: "While astronauts can control R2 directly, making the robot more autonomous will make work on the station and on future deep space exploration missions more efficient. One goal is to help R2 'see' better. In order to use a tool, R2 relies on an algorithm to determine a 3-D representation of the tool. The algorithm works with the robot's control system and allows R2 to create a plan for grasping objects and completing its tasks."

The objective of the competition is to optimise R2's operating abilities by using its existing machinery, instead of refitting it with a complete new set of sensors. By swapping the robot's current algorithm, which allows it to recognise 3D representations of its surrounding objects and replacing it with a new algorithm that will enable it to better analyse and understand the "noisy stereo images" that it is currently collecting, Nasa hopes to circumvent the added complication and cost of sending up and refitting R2 with additional equipment.

Nasa's Robot Vision Tool Manipulation contest kicked off on 23 February and is supported by the space agency's Space Technology Mission Directorate.