NASA Turns to Crowdsourcing to Develop Robotic Arm

February 26, 2016

8:00 pm

NASA has been branching out in a variety of unusual ways during the past few years, including investing $485 million into an outsourced mobile app development consolidation project and partnering with Soundcloud to bring the sounds of space exploration into everyone’s living room. One of the organization’s latest programs takes advantage of crowdsourcing, and there are currently 30 people competing to develop the robotic arm architecture for a free-flying robot.

The Crowdsourcing Competition

NASA teamed up with Freelancer to look for independent designers with an acumen for creating robotic parts, and they received more than 3,300 entries. NASA was then tasked with narrowing down the field to find the 30 inventive individuals who would be most qualified to develop robotic technology that will enable the Astrobee to handle several tools, including a camera, while it moves around the interior of the International Space Station.

The list of finalists features designers who hail from 18 different countries, ranging from Serbia to Ireland. Four of the competitors who have been chosen to move forward are from the U.S., including San Francisco student Gemma Hopkins. Two of the other three American finalists are also students, which highlights the potential of contests such as this one. After all, any design student that wins a coveted spot creating a piece of technology for NASA will also receive an impressive resume boost that could be instrumental in their future career plans.

What’s Next?

In total, there will be three phases for this competition. Now that phase one, the Robotic Arm Challenge, has been completed, it is time for the finalists to move forward with Robotic Arm Architecture. Each of the 30 people who have been hand selected by NASA now have a contract to work on this phase. In other words, no matter whose final design is implemented, they will all be paid for their time and efforts.

After phase two ends and a single design is selected, NASA will launch the Robotic Arm Building competition via This will provide tech builders with the opportunity to win a slot on the team that will eventually produce a robotic arm that will be used in space.

What Exactly is the Astrobee?

The Astrobee has been billed as the next generation of space robotics. When it is completed, this robot will have the ability to free-fly, and it will be utilized for ground and space missions. The main role of the Astrobee is to take on a variety of intravehicular activities. Additionally, NASA has chosen this particular robot to participate in microgravity research. When you put all of these factors together, the freelancers who have been given the chance to design Astrobee’s arm will also be able to make a significant contribution to NASA’s work.

Crowdsourcing may initially seem like an unusual choice for an organization with access to some of the greatest scientific and technical minds in the world, but the reality is that many truly inventive people are never given a chance to show what they can do. By thinking outside the box and hosting competitions of this nature, NASA not only gives these individuals a chance to shine but the organization also becomes exposed to a new list of potential future employees.

Image used with permission from Alek Weber (Freelancer Design)

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Holly Chavez is a former engineer and current writer and entrepreneur. She enjoys writing informative articles about technology and is amazed at all the new inventions and strides that happen every day. Holly also cares about the environment and is involved with writing projects and activism that supports sustainability, Green living and lowering the carbon footprint.