Crowdsourcing: the NASA case

The crowdsourcing case I introduce here is called Robotic Mining Competition (RMC) launched by NASA. The project was set up for college students to design and build a mining robot that can do mission on Martian surface. Since its inception, the project has received more than 400 robots from more than 3000 students across the United States. And the students from the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, earned the top reward this year.


Similar to the Next Stop Design case, the NASA case is also under the form of competition, and they both require participants to design models. That means the crowdsourcing in both cases needs participants to be skilled in certain fields. Thus, participating in the two competitions can advance their skills and make them recognized by people in the same area.

The RMC also differs from the Next Stop Design case in some ways. It requires participants to be university students and in a team, which narrow the participating passage, but fully motivate students. While the Next Stop Design only asks for design sketches, the RMC needs participants to build a real mining robot, which makes the outcome more visualized and practical. Participants can have their own robots after the competition. It is in accordance with the motivator “to advance one’s career” concluded by Brabham (2012).

Unlike Next Stop Design that all processes finished online and have no prize reward, the RMC allowed participants to gather together at a place in Florida and discuss their plans face to face. And the winner can be awarded with money. Students can feel a sense of participation and tension under this circumstance, and the collaborative effort and the money can also be other motivators that attract them to the crowdsourcing.

The NASA case is much more different from the emergency reporting cases, for they have very distinct purposes. While NASA intends to find ideas and solutions to solve problems, the emergency reporting platforms play a basic role as informing and alerting people. Although these two types of crowdsourcing both encourage public engagement, and the emergency reporting cases also ask for problem solving to some degree. But the majority of participants in the emergency reporting cases are silent observers who want to be informed from the platform and even if people share some ideas about avoiding the risk of damage, they may not be that professional.

On the contrary, the participants in the NASA project could help improve aerospace industry and the majority of participants will provide their ideas to solve problems. The outcome of the emergency reporting will help people be more aware of potential disasters, while the robots in the NASA case  remarkably solve the technique problems and raise the work efficiency.



3 Comments Add yours

  1. zuowangblog says:

    I think the NASA case is a very typical case of crowdsourcing competition, which is more likely to stimulate people’s extrinsic motivation to participate in the event. And as what mentioned in your blog that the case requires participants to be university students and in a team, I think NASA just set a good example as how to make the process of crowdsourcing conducting more wisely—narrowing the range of participants. Releasing the task among college students can reduce, what happened in those “looking for a name” cases, the unserious and somewhat meaningless answers (students, meanwhile, can take it as an opportunity to improve their knowledge and skills, let alone the cash reward). Gathering at a certain place to discuss the design also made the process practical and contributed to a better result of crowdsourcing.


  2. This is a cool case and a good example, because the participants have a chance to do something really useful, and NASA might get something that (even with all its experts) it could not produce with its own resources.


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