SIPI Students Win NASA Robotic Programming Competition

Schulte Cooke (Navajo Nation) a liberal arts & geospatial information technology major; Emery Sutherland (Navajo Nation) a computer aided design / drafting and network management major; Christian Martinez (Pueblo of Laguna) a network management major; Ty Shurley (Navajo Nation) a pre-engineering and computer aided design / drafting major and Nader Vadiee, Ph.D., SIPI engineering professor and the team’s faculty advisor for the SIPI-NASA I-CMARS Program pose with the trophy and prize.

Story by Albuquerque Innovation Central

In the spaceport’s second annual Swarmathon, 20 teams representing 22 minority serving universities and community colleges were invited to develop software code to operate innovative robots called “Swarmies.” Their research may lead to technology that will help astronauts find needed resources when exploring the moon or Mars.

SIPI’s team is the only participating team to place two years in a row. In 2016, the Albuquerque participants took third place in the Physical Competition. The small, four-wheeled Swarmie robots were designed through a collaboration between Kennedy’s Swamp Works laboratory and the University of New Mexico. It is a technology that could revolutionize space exploration by more effectively and efficiently locating hidden resources while astronauts explore distant destinations.

Computer scientists are developing Swarmies to focus not so much on the hardware, but the software. The Swarmathon is designed to help students improve their skills in robotics and computer science, as well as integrating software with hardware. What makes these robots noteworthy is the coding each carries in its silicon brain that makes them search for water, minerals and elements that could be refined into useful resources such as building materials or rocket fuel.

NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Project selected the University of New Mexico to manage the Swarmathon challenge in a joint effort with the agency. Through the MUREP program, NASA’s goal is to increase the number of NASA-focused science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, experiences that engage underrepresented groups in active education.

Established in 1971, SIPI is an accredited National Indian Community College and Land Grant institution and is one of two post-secondary institutions overseen by the Bureau of Indian Education.

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