NASA's robot R2 needs your help

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NASA's Robonaut 2 (R2) humanoid robot

NASA's robot R2 needs your help getting a handle on things in space.

One version of R2, officially known as Robonaut 2, is already on the International Space Station while several others are in development.

NASA has tasked R2 to be an astronaut's assistant on the space station. Some of the tasks require it to use specific tools, and NASA is asking the crowdsourcing platform Freelancer.com to build 3D models to help Robonaut use those tools.

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"This is our first-ever collaboration with NASA," said Nik Badminton, Freelancer.com's regional director for North America.

The platform has 16 million users in 247 countries, ranging from individuals to multi-billion dollar conglomerates.

NASA has set 14 challenges that roll out weekly on Freelancer.com and expire weekly, requiring designers to be quick. Half of those challenges are already live since the contest launched last week.

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Among them: Create a model of a large flashlight that R2 will use while assisting astronauts. Another is to build a model of a handrail that astronauts or R2 would use to move in and out of the space station.

A new challenge asks inventors to build a 3D model of an RFID Scanner, similar to one being used by astronauts on the space station. R2 would use this scanner to help locate and keep inventory of items.

NASA is providing a photograph of its concept of what the tools should be. The contestants then have to submit a realistic 3D model of a workable design.

The winner in each challenge will only receive $50 to $100 from NASA, and the agency will acquire the intellectual property, said Steve Rader, deputy manager with the Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovative at NASA.

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This isn't the first time that NASA has turned to crowdsourcing for generating design ideas, algorithms and software, said Rader.

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"We've been doing this for a few years now, but it's usually for much bigger problems," he said. "This time we've posed specific microtasks, which is something new for us."

Rader said NASA has other crowdsourcing challenges in the works, such as apps for smartwatches that crew members will wear on the space station.

"Another challenge would be to take the best quality photo of the space station from ground-based telescopes," he said.

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