Technology companies create Lego lunar contest to inspire next-generation engineers

New "MoonBots" program challenges parent-child teams to conduct Google Lunar X Prize Missions with Lego robots in a Lego lunar landscape. It was announced at National Instruments NIWeek.


Austin, TX - The X Prize Foundation, Google Inc., Lego Systems, National Instruments, and Wired's GeekDad announced "MoonBots: A Google Lunar X Prize Lego Mindstorms Challenge" on Aug. 4 at National Instruments NIWeek 2009. The new contest will challenge small teams comprised of children and adults to design, program, and construct robots that perform simulated lunar missions similar to those required to win the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize, a private race to the Moon designed to enable commercial exploration of space while engaging the global public. [Other news from NIWeek includes NI Wireless Sensor Platform and NI LabView 2009 .]

Full moon photo, Control Engineering at


To further this purpose, the X Prize Foundation and Google joined forces with three other technology companies to offer a competition to stimulate learning of robotics and team building while exciting students and their families about their potential roles in the new Moon race .

MoonBot participants will program robots with easy-to-use graphical software powered by National Instruments LabView, said Ray Almgren, vice president of academic relations at National Instruments . Today's students are tomorrow's innovators, he said, and they'll get to use the same software used by engineers and scientists around the world.

"The Google Lunar X Prize is helping to open a new era of lunar exploration that will involve much broader participation than the first Moon race," said William Pomerantz, senior director for Space Prizes at the X Prize Foundation. "We want students and their parents to understand that they can tackle difficult engineering problems and generate important new ideas regardless of their age or their background-and that they can have fun doing so. This contest is quite accessible for even very young children, but still demands creativity, intelligence, and hard work."

Once registration for the contest opens, teams will be asked to submit designs illustrating how they will build, program and operate their robots using Lego Mindstorms robotic kits. There will be no charge to enter the contest and registration will be open to teams across the globe.

The competition will encourage the participants to use free software tools such as Google's SketchUp, Lego's Digital Designer, National Instruments LabView, and Google's YouTube platform to delineate how their entry will be constructed and how their team will function. From these submissions, a select group will be chosen as finalists and provided with free Lego components to construct a large Moonscape that will serve as the competition's‘playing field.' Finalists will then construct, program and demonstrate their robots to be judged.

"Thanks to the many thousands of users in the Lego Mindstorms community, we have an impressive track record when it comes to amazing, imaginative robotic inventions and applications," said Steven Canvin, marketing manager for Lego Mindstorms. "Users have in the past decade created Lego Mindstorms robots that have been into space twice, so creating the MoonBots contest together with the partners around the Google Lunar X Prize is a natural choice."

To learn more about the MoonBots competition and to find out upcoming information when to register to compete, please visit .

For more information about the Google Lunar X PRIZE and the teams currently registered in the competition, please visit .

- Edited by Mark T. Hoske, editor in chief, Control Engineering

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