New Space and Tech

Twenty Finalists Named in “MoonBots” Educational Contest

By Keith Cowing
April 8, 2013
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The X PRIZE Foundation, the world leader in incentive prizes to drive innovation, and LEGO Group, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of play materials for children, has announced the twenty finalists for MoonBots, a global educational contest. Using LEGO bricks and MINDSTORMS components, the challenge requires teams of students to create simulated lunar rovers similar to those competing for Google Lunar X PRIZE, a competition that will award $30 million to privately funded teams that explore the surface of the Moon with innovative robots. More than two hundred teams from sixteen nations registered for MoonBots and completed the requirements of the first phase of the competition, which required both in-depth research about lunar exploration as well as the use of Computer Assisted Design (CAD) software to mock up a lunar robot.
The contest was open to students between the ages of nine and eighteen. Judges of the competition were impressed with the results from all of the entries. “Teams with little or no previous experience with robotics or with CAD software are engaging in the competition on equal terms with veteran teams,” noted Steven Canvin, Marketing Manager for LEGO MINDSTORMS. A survey of participating students revealed that nearly half of them reported a significant increase in their knowledge of lunar exploration, and over half reported learning new skills with various CAD programs. “The students are learning to combine several challenging skills and to apply them in a new way. MoonBots requires them to get creative, and to find imaginative ways to express how they’ve used Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math to reach solutions to a difficult problem.”

The twenty finalists are: ARES (Texas, USA); Coastal Quarks (California, USA); Cougar LEGO Robotics Team (Ohio, USA); Crandroids (Michigan, USA); G.I.R.L.S. (Missouri, USA); got robot? (Illinois, USA); Intergalactic Bacon (Florida, USA); Just Ducky (Minnesota, USA); Landroids (New Jersey, USA); LegoAces (Ohio, USA); Lunar Horizon (California, USA); Milkyway Monsters (Massachusetts, USA); Moonwalk (New Jersey/Connecticut, USA); New Hartford RoboSpartans (New York, USA); OABB 4-H Lego Robots (California, USA); Pushing Frontiers (Lovenjoel, Belguim); Team Tater Tot (Minnesota, USA); The Shadowed Craters (California, USA); WEBstormers (Cape Town, South Africa); and Yellow Jackets (Michigan, USA). All twenty teams will receive a LEGO MINDSTORMS kit, two year subscriptions to WIRED Magazine, and all of the LEGO bricks required to build a simulated lunar surface required in the next phase of the competition.

The X PRIZE Foundation and LEGO also announced several members of the expert judging panel that will decide upon the grand prize winners. Included among them are X PRIZE Foundation Trustees Anousheh Ansari, entrepreneur and private astronaut and Dean Kamen, inventor, entrepreneur, and founder of the F.I.R.S.T. robotics competitions. Also judging, are Steve Hassenplug, Master LEGO robot builder and Jeff Kodosky, co-Founder of the engineering firm National Instruments. “Selecting the finalists from the initial pool of candidates was an extraordinarily difficult task for our Phase One judges,” said William Pomerantz, Senior Director of Space Prizes for the X PRIZE Foundation. “The quality of work was extremely high. All of our finalist teams are extraordinarily capable, so we expect the robots they build and the research they conduct to be extremely professional. Our expert judges have their work cut out for them!”

The twenty finalists will spend the next two months transforming their computer assisted designs into actual hardware, and perfecting a robot that can successfully explore a lunar surface built from LEGO components while performing a variety of tasks meant to simulate the requirements of the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE. The competition will culminate in a live “Mission Webcast” conducted by each team, wherein the will need to complete their simulated lunar mission on a tight three-minute timeline. Each team will also be required to submit a video documentary detailing how they put together their mission, and what they’ve learned from the competition. Thanks to the support of MoonBots partners Google, Inc., National Instruments, and WIRED Magazine’s GeekDad blog, three winning teams will win prizes including registrations and start up kits to compete in the F.I.R.S.T. robotics competitions, iPod Touches, and a trip to LEGO’s world headquarters in Denmark.

For more information about MoonBots, and to follow along with the twenty finalist teams, please visit:


The $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE is an unprecedented international competition that challenges and inspires engineers and entrepreneurs from around the world to develop low-cost methods of robotic space exploration. The $30 million prize purse is segmented into a $20 million Grand Prize, a $5 million Second Prize and $5 million in bonus prizes. To win the Grand Prize, a team must successfully soft land a privately funded spacecraft on the Moon, rove on the lunar surface for a minimum of 500 meters, and transmit a specific set of video, images and data back to the Earth. The Grand Prize is $20 million until December 31st 2012; thereafter it will drop to $15 million until December 31st 2014 at which point the competition will be terminated unless extended by Google and the X PRIZE Foundation. For more information about the Google Lunar X PRIZE, please visit


The X PRIZE Foundation is an educational nonprofit prize institute whose mission is to create radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity. In 2004, the Foundation captured the world’s attention when the Burt Rutan-led team, backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, built and flew the world’s first private spaceship to win the $10 million Ansari X PRIZE for suborbital spaceflight. The Foundation has since launched the $10 million Archon Genomics X PRIZE, the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE and the $10 million Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE. The Foundation, with the support of its partner, BT Global Services, is creating prizes in Space and Ocean Exploration, Life Sciences, Energy and Environment, Education and Global Development. The Foundation is widely recognized as a leader in fostering innovation through competition. For more information, please visit


The LEGO Group is a privately held, family-owned company based in Billund, Denmark. It was founded in 1932, and today, the group is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of play materials for children, employing approximately 5,600 people globally. The LEGO Group is committed to the development of children’s creative and imaginative abilities. LEGO products can be purchased in more than 130 countries. For more information, please visit


In 1998, The LEGO Group spearheaded the consumer robotics category with the launch of the LEGO(R) MINDSTORMS(R) Robotics Invention System, that introduced children to the world of robotics, and offered the ability to create their own intelligent, interactive, autonomous LEGO robots. The LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT robotics toolkits allow children of all ages to design, build, and program their own robots using LEGO building elements, customized hardware, and an easy-to-use icon-based graphical programming language. For more information, please visit

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National Instruments is transforming the way engineers and scientists design, prototype and deploy systems for measurement, automation and embedded applications. NI empowers customers with off-the-shelf software such as NI LabVIEW and modular cost-effective hardware, and sells to a broad base of more than 30,000 different companies worldwide, with no one customer representing more than 3 percent of revenue and no one industry representing more than 15 percent of revenue. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, NI has more than 5,000 employees and direct operations in more than 40 countries. For the past 10 years, FORTUNE magazine has named NI one of the 100 best companies to work for in America. For more information, please visit

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.