A team of 12 Montgomery College computer science and engineering students won the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) virtual Swarmathon competition April 20, beating 14 other college teams, including many four-year schools.

The goal of the competition is to develop cooperative robotics for space exploration. Swarmathon teams develop computer code used by swarms of robots to autonomously find and collect the most resources in an arena without human supervision or maps. To meet this challenge, students develop new algorithms (rules encoded in computer programs) that can be used by robot swarms for other applications such as cleaning up hazardous waste or rescuing people in disaster zones.

The Montgomery College team spent the Spring 2017 semester learning and programming robots under the guidance of Dr. David Kuijt, professor of computer science. Seven of the students traveled to the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the competition that lasted April 18 through April 20.

The Swarmathon is administered under a cooperative agreement between the NASA Minority University Research and Education Program (MUREP) and The University of New Mexico (UNM). Over 1,000 students have participated in the Swarmathon since 2015. Participants are from minority serving institutions.

The Montgomery College team was awarded a monetary prize and members are already thinking about future challenges: In the next few months, look for the team to be testing code on physical robots in campus parking lots.

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