Kevin Knoedler, a 1990 graduate of North Platte High, recently won a competition for the best space robot hosted by NASA -- the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.Knoedler received a trophy and $175,000 in prize money on June 30 at the Houston Space Center.
His software guided a humanoid robot to repair a habitat damaged by a Martian dust storm. It had to align an antenna, deploy a solar panel, walk up a flight of stairs to the habitat and once there, find and repair a leak.
The goal was to develop software to improve the autonomous capabilities of NASA’s R5 robot, enabling it to perform specific tasks that might help future astronauts after landing on other planets.
NASA officials said they use these types of competitions, “to draw citizen-inventors from diverse backgrounds and disciplines to push technology forward.”
Knoedler is a computer programmer, which sparked his interest in the contest.
His programmed robot completed the tasks on the first try, earning him a $50,000 bonus, on top of $125,000 for first place and a nice trophy.
He said the project was complicated, but fun.
Teams from 55 countries participated in the qualification round and the top 20 advanced to the finals. Knoedler said many of the top 20 consisted of more than one person, but he worked alone under the name of Coordinated Robotics.
In future space missions, NASA hopes to have the technology to use robots to prepare life support systems in advance of astronauts’ arrival.
“The rigorous science learning in this international competition helped programmers develop software for humanoid robots who will someday assist astronauts exploring deep space in future missions,” said Space Center Houston’s Vice President of Education Daniel Newmyer.
Knoedler encourages young people to take up careers in science.
He studied math and science is thankful for the education he received in the North Platte schools.
“I can’t talk about winning this contest without acknowledging and thanking my high school teachers for their help,” he said.
He said all of them helped him get to where he is today.
“Science can be a gateway for many different jobs -- not necessarily robotics,” he said.
After high school, Knoedler attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – one of the nation’s foremost universities of scientific studies -- where he earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering.
From there, he moved to Newbury Park, Calif. and went to work as a computer programmer until his first child was born. He now works as a stay-at-home dad.
His wife works in the semiconductor industry. They have two children.