Six teams - comprised of a total of 31 students from five universities - took part in the challenge Image Credit: Twitter/@MBRSpaceCentre

Dubai: The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) today announced the winners of the UAE Zero Robotics Programming Challenge (UAE ZRPC), a unique programming competition that took place onboard the International Space Station (ISS) with the participation of Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi.

The UAE ZRPC was developed in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and NASA.

This Challenge provided university students with a rare opportunity to demonstrate and develop their programming and critical thinking skills, by programming the free-flying robot Astrobee to write Arabic letters in the microgravity environment of the ISS.

The first place was awarded to the team from Khalifa University for demonstrating exceptional command over the Astrobee’s control in a microgravity environment. The second and third places were secured by Team 2 and Team 1, respectively, from the UAE University.

Salem Humaid Al Marri, Director-General, MBRSC, said: “Engaging students in the field of STEM is of paramount importance to the UAE’s vision for a future rich in science and technology. With Sultan’s mission aboard the ISS, we open a new chapter in educational outreach initiatives. This challenge is the kind of inspired learning we aim for at MBRSC – nurturing the innovators and explorers of tomorrow and propelling the UAE to the forefront of global space exploration.”

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On May 16, AlNeyadi - who is on the longest Arab space mission to ISS, lasting six months - assisted in performing the dry-run of the Challenge on the ISS. During the dry-run, Astrobee robots were used to verify various aspects and programming for the final event. This was followed by the final code submission from the teams on May 23. The on-orbit final run was held yesterday, June 23, with a tandem on-site event organised at MBRSC where participating teams had the opportunity to witness the challenge live.

Challenge format

Al Neyadi assisted in performing the final run of the Challenge. In this session, the teams competed by programming the Astrobee robot to spell out a set of passwords consisting of three to six Arabic letters for the crew. The passwords were required for a fictional scenario in which two astronauts, facing technical issues in radio communication, needed to communicate and enter a password to restart a power system.

Competing teams

Six teams took part in this challenge, totalling 31 students, representing five universities, with each team guided by a Lead Professor and a Team Lead. The participating teams included one team each from American University in Dubai, Higher Colleges of Technology Abu Dhabi, Khalifa University, University of Sharjah, and two teams from UAE University.

Intensive training

Over the course of several weeks, the students engaged in an intensive training regimen to prepare themselves for the final code submissions. During the initial rounds of UAE ZRPC, the teams utilised an online simulation to test their code and closely observe the movement of the Astrobee. These codes were then uploaded to Astrobee, bringing their hard work to life as the robot executed the programmed tasks in space. The challenge promoted creative thinking, technical skill, and a keen understanding of real-world applications for programming in space.

The UAE Astronaut Programme is one of the projects managed by MBRSC under the UAE’s National Space Programme and funded by the ICT Fund of the Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority (TDRA), which aims to support research and development in the ICT sector in the UAE and promote the country’s integration on the global stage.