How this Australian startup is partnering with NASA to design a robotic arm for the International Space Station

An Australian startup will call on its large network of users to help NASA design a new arm for a free-flying robot that will be completing chores in outer-space.


Freelancer first partnered with NASA last year, with 22 contests posted to its platform asking users to solve some complex problems facing the astronauts, including image recognition and the interface design of a smartwatch app used in space.


Now the alliance has become even bigger, with NASA again utilising the Freelancer network to help design a new robotic arm for the Astrobee robot.


The Astrobee is a robot which autonomously moves around the space station performing a number of routine tasks including inspections, camera work and surveys.




The Freelancer contest will see NASA select the top 30 applications from all the registrations, with these lucky few having to break down the options for the system architecture.


The final phase will see NASA actually crowdsource the designs for the robotic arm based on the ideas of the freelancers along with those from the NASA team.


Freelancer proved its worth with last year’s partnership leading NASA to extend it, Asia-Pacific marketing and communications manager Pallavi Savant says.


“They were quite happy with the outcomes and based on the results they extended the partnership to 2016 as well,” Savant tells StartupSmart.

“This year it’s even bigger.


Freelancer now has a specific team that focuses on the NASA partnership, she says.


“NASA can see the efficiency of using a platform like Freelancer to source great talent to get work done,” Savant says. 


“We have about 1500 entries for this year’s contest – it’s already much more successful than the previous ones.”


Freelancer CEO Matt Barrie says the partnership has already seen “great success”.


“It showcases the phenomenal breadth and depth of talent available worldwide on Freelancer,” Barrie says.


For NASA, it’s a way to “engage external innovators”, director of advanced exploration systems Jason Crusan says.


“NASA has grown in the multiple ways we engage the crowd to provide solutions to challenges we face when advancing complex space systems,” Crusan says.


“This challenge continues that expansion and will help to create novel designs but also allow us to learn about sophisticated system design through the use of open innovation.


“We continue to explore the many ways to engage external innovators.”



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