Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

A View from Brittany Sauser

Laser-Powered Robot Climbers Race Into the Sky

A competition will see engineers beam power to robotic climbers.

  • November 4, 2009

Today at NASA Dryden Research Center in California, three teams are competing to propel robotic climbers up a vertically tethered cable using high-powered lasers. The competition, called the Power Beaming Challenge, is part of the Space Elevator Games run by the Spaceward Foundation, and is sponsored by NASA’s Centennial Challenges program, which will award $2 million in prize money.

According to NASA:

This challenge is a practical demonstration of wireless power transmission. Teams build mechanical devices (climbers) that can propel themselves up a vertical cable. The power supply for the device is not self-contained but remains on the ground. The technical challenge is to transmit the power to the climber and transform it into mechanical motion, efficiently and reliably.

For the competition, a cable will be tethered from a helicopter at a height of one kilometer. Each robotic climbers must weight no more than 50 kilograms and must ascend the cable at a minimum speed of two meters per second.

All three competing teams will use lasers as their power source instead solar power or spotlights, as have been used in the past. Power is limited, so teams must build power dense machines. The best performance to date–competitions were held in 2005, 2006, and 2007–was a robot that travelled at 1.8 meters per second for 100 meters.

The purpose of the competition is to spur development of systems that might ultimately lead to a space elevator–a machine intended to scale a stationary cable from Earth to space. But power beaming also has applications for lunar rovers and space propulsion systems.

This year’s competition will run until November 6. You can watch it live here or follow Twitter updates.

Cut off? Read unlimited articles today.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.
More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Print Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.