Zero Robotics is a robotic programming competition where teams of students, assisted by adult mentors, program miniature satellites called SPHERES, in C. Students program the satellites to play a challenging game, and can create, edit, share, save, compile, simulate, and submit code from the Zero Robotics website. Begun in 2009, the competition was opened to the general programming public for the first time in 2011, and many student teams from across the nation are preparing to compete in this year's challenge. Collaboration is an important key to success. Students learn valuable skills about working as a team, designing real-world software, overcoming programming challenges, solving math and science related problems, meeting deadlines, creating strategies, and gaining familiarity with online simulations and IDE's. The first phase is a simulated 2D environment, progressing to the 3D competition. After accumulating a qualifying ranking, teams then select alliances of three. These alliances code for a semifinal elimination round, also a 3D simulation. Ultimately, each team dreams of seeing their final code in action as it controls a satellite in space!

For more information please see the Zero Robotics Homepage and the NASA SPHERES Mission Page

1912 members interested in competing in SPHERES should contact our student lead, Alex L.

AsteroSPHERES (2011)

AsteroSPHERES, the first Zero Robotics challenge open to the general community, features two ore-rich asteroids, Indigens and Opulens. In the first stage, SPHERES are equipped with a repulsor beam (to push away another SPHERE) or a tractor beam (to attract another SPHERE). They can pick up a variety of items: a laser, a shield, or a disruptor. Teams must then decide whether to immediately extract ore from Indigens, or to melt the thick ice cap covering Opulens' more valuable ore. More minerals are mined if both SPHERES collaborate during the process. In the third and final phase, the SPHERES race to waypoint mining stations to deliver their ore. Whoever returns with a greater stock of ore (either in quality or quantity), wins the match.

Game Manual

AsteroSPHERES logo

RetroSPHERES (2012)

In RetroSPHERES, the space zone is divided into three sections. The SPHERES start in separate zones and are equipped with fuel and a laser. While in their zones, they can create dust clouds by rotating. The SPHERES then move to a shared zone, which contains a disabled satellite and several re-supply packs for fuel or laser charge. Each SPHERE then progresses to its opponent's zone, littered with obstructive clouds. Using the laser, a SPHERE can detect dust clouds to avoid them. Teams must develop algorithms to efficiently navigate the field. Finally, the SPHERES rendezvous with a station. The team retaining the most fuel is awarded victory points.

Game Manual

RetroSPHERES logo

CosmoSPHERES (2013)

CosmoSPHERES introduced another real-world scenario for Zero Robotics teams to solve. At the start of the game, the field is littered with space debris. The SPHERES satellites hold a collaborative net between them. They have three options for navigating the debris field: calculating a path around each piece, flying in formation to use the net, or lassoing debris with a piece of the broken net. Gathering debris mass is very beneficial for the later stages of the game. Teams also have the opportunity to acquire a laser from two supply packs located at the edge of the debris field. After 90 seconds, two comets enter the playing field, with trajectories targeting Planet Earth. The SPHERES can save humankind by attracting the comets with gravity, augmented by collected debris. Alternatively, SPHERES can use laser impulses to push the comets. Scores are calculated by the distance each comet is displaced: the greater the deflection, the higher the score.

Game Manual

Zero Robotics API Reference

CosmoSPHERES logo