Humanoid Space Robot May Soon Join the ISS Crew

A humanoid space robot

Nao robots are finding uses in many areas.  These little guys have been the first to show signs of self-awareness and are one of the most popular robots for education and research.  Now a Nao robot could be the first humanoid robot to take up permanent residence on the International Space Station (ISS).

Now, I know some of you might be saying wait a minute here.  Isn’t there already a humanoid robot on the ISS?  After all, Robonaut 2 has already made a home on the ISS and has proved to be a valuable member of the crew.  I asked this question myself.  I wonder if Robonaut is not considered humanoid since it does not have the lower part of its body attached.  Or maybe Robonaut is not a permanent part of the crew.  At any rate, in the article I read about this, Nao is being touted as the first permanent humanoid resident.

Potential space robot Nao

Futur en Seine digital technology festival, Paris, June 2015. Le robot Nao. Jean-Pierre Dalbéra from Paris, France

A research team at the French Institute of Health and Medical Research just put mankind a bit closer to complete robot rule this past month, outfitting the humanoid robot Nao with an “autobiographical memory.” To make this accomplishment even more astounding, the team intends to push for its new robotic system to become a permanent member of the International Space Station.

Not the first robots on the ISS

Nao may be considered the first humanoid robot on the ISS, but it will not be the first robot.  There have been many robots on the station over the years.   The station has several robot arms to assist with tasks such as capturing resupply vehicles and moving station modules into place.  Perhaps the most famous is the Canadarm2 or the Mobile Servicing System (MSS).  This robotic arm was launched to the ISS in 2001.  It has been very important in assembly of the ISS.  Also, its aids astronauts when they are conducting spacewalks.

Another robot on the station is the Robonaut 2.  This humanoid robot, also known as R2, went to the ISS on the shuttle Discovery in the STS-133 mission.  R2 is a test platform to generate data on how a robot may work with astronauts in the future.  This bot has the ability to work autonomously as well as to be tele-operated by the astronauts or from the ground.

Space Robot SPHERES

Three satellites fly in formation as part of the Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) investigation. This image was taken during Expedition 14 in the Destiny laboratory module. NASA/International Space Station Expedition 14 Public domain.

If you count the robotic arms on the ISS, there are quite a few robots onboard the station already.  Besides the previously mentioned Robonaut, there are the SPHERES.

NASA has been testing SPHERES on the space station since 2011.

Pictured in the photo to the center left, they are flying in formation. These free-flyers will receive an upgrade with a smartphone to become a bot known as Smart SPHERES.

…this prototype free-flying space robot equipped with a smartphone, known as Smart SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient Experimental Satellites).

The station astronauts have upgraded these existing space robots to use Google’s “Project Tango” smartphone, which features a custom 3-D sensor and multiple cameras. Smart SPHERES are being used to test free-flying 3-D mapping and navigation inside the space station. NASA developed the Smart SPHERES to perform work on the space station that requires the mobile sensing the bots have onboard.  It is hoped they will carry out environmental monitoring of levels of radiation, lighting, and air quality.  Smart SPHERES is funded by the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters.

Space robot SPHERE
Image Credit: NASA/Ames

What is the future for robots on the ISS and beyond?

Robots will continue to play a role on the ISS as new and more capable machines are developed.  When missions beyond low Earth orbit are conducted in the future robots will almost certainly be along side of the astronauts.  Its hard to imagine that they would not.  Space robotics will be able to enhance the ability of humans to conduct safe and successful missions.

What is your opinion on the place of robots in human spaceflight?  Let me know with your comments.

Source: NASA Ames Launches Smartphone Upgrade and CubeSat Aboard Orbital Rocket

Source: A humanoid robot may soon be the first permanent resident on the ISS

Terraforming a Lunar Crater with Robots

Living on the Moon will be difficult for humans.  Several problems exist for survival on the lunar surface.  Basically, no atmosphere is present on the Moon.   Temperature extremes are difficult to work in for both humans and machines.  There is a two week daytime and a two week nighttime.  And finally, the water that is on the Moon is in the form of ice and it is only in a few craters at the poles.  Robots could help solve some of these problems.

Terriforming to Build a Moon Base

Illustration of a Moon Base – NASA Illustration

NASA currently has a new project that they have funded to send robots to the moon. The idea is to provide sunlight to the Shackleton Crater.

NASA wants to turn the moon into a lunar science lab: Fleet of robots could terraform Shackleton Crater

Daily Mail:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3153475/Nasa-want-turn-moon-lunar-science-lab-Fleet-robots-terraform-football-pitch-sized-Shackleton-Crater.html#ixzz3gRJozgpJ

Currently, the plan is to have the robots use reflectors to redirect sunlight into the bottom of the crater, which is located at the lunar South Pole. What would result from this is a warm environment for other robots to work in at the depths of the crater.

What makes Shackleton Crater such an attractive location for this large terraforming project is its massive size (roughly 130 square miles), as well as the fact it’s entirely flanked by peaks measuring some 14,000 feet in height.

Digital Trends: http://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/nasa-is-considering-terraforming-the-moon-with-autonomous-robots/#ixzz3gRRHD5Do

The first robots to arrive for this project would be “transformer type” machines that would unfold into a giant reflective mirror to redirect sunlight into the crater.  Following those robots would be scientific and exploration bots whose job it would be to sample and process materials from the depths of the crater.

According to Adrian Stoica of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, “The TransFormer (TF) concept is a paradigm shift to operating in Extreme Environments (EE). TFs are systems that direct energy into energy-depleted (extreme) environments, transforming them, locally, around robots or humans, into mild micro-environments.”

Science Alert:  NASA is investigating the possibility of terraforming the Moon. With Robots.

Shackleton crater is thought to hold a valuable resource of water ice. Tapping into this frozen treasure will provide both liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen in addition to liquid water. All of these products are essential for further exploration in the solar system. In the future, what happens is, this lunar crater becomes an interplanetary gas station for the exploration of the solar system.

image

Shackelton Crater Photo Credit: NASA LRO

So what are your thoughts regarding this project?  Although this project is only in the very early prototype stages, it is nonetheless an intriguing idea.  Robots have always been the pioneers in space exploration blazing the trail for human explorers to follow. And that will certainly be the case here.  I look forward to a conversation about this proposal.

 

Sources:

Digital Trends: http://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/nasa-is-considering-terraforming-the-moon-with-autonomous-robots/#ixzz3gRRHD5Do

Science Alert:  NASA is investigating the possibility of terraforming the Moon. With Robots.

Daily Mail:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3153475/Nasa-want-turn-moon-lunar-science-lab-Fleet-robots-terraform-football-pitch-sized-Shackleton-Crater.html#ixzz3gRJozgpJ

Space Robots May Service Satellites

weather-satellite_w553_h725Two companies are building robots to service dying satellites and keep them functioning in orbit. The question with the idea is whether or not this process would save money over the current practice of abandoning and/or replacing the dead satellites. At this time, it just does not seem financially feasible to have robots repair or refuel satellites even though the technology certainly is at the level needed to carryout these operations.

 

Photo Credit: NASA

Robotic droids prepared to extend lives of satellites
Examiner.com
Orbiting our planet is a vast multitude of satellites, some long dead and some still carrying out their mission. Once a satellite breaks down it's nearly impossible to fix it due to the massive costs of sending a specialized crew of astronauts to get
and more »

Robotic droids prepared to extend lives of satellites – Examiner.com
Tue, 15 May 2012 16:17:55 GMT

Robots That Can Be Controlled From Orbit

Photo Credit:  NASA

Robots have long been the pathfinders for the exploration of space.  Surveyor landers went to the surface of the Moon to test out the surface before men walked on it.  Mars has been host to a number of robotic explorers paving the way for future human landings there.  Even when people finally get to orbit the Red Planet, they will probably want to send out robotic probes to test out the expected landing sites first.  This technology might even find its way to planets or moons outside our solar system.  To do this, the astronauts will need to control the robots from orbit.  This is the purpose of a new rover being developed by the European Space Agency.  Read the article at the link below for more details.

Experts with the European Space Agency (ESA) announce the creation of a new rover, which is meant to act as a testbed for a new remote-control technology. Astronauts in low-Earth orbit (LEO) will control the machine through specialized, exoskeleton-like …

Controlling Robots on Exoplanets from Orbit – Softpedia
Wed, 06 Jul 2011 18:33:31 GMT

Japanese Robot to Walk on the Moon by 2015

The next step on the Moon may well be taken by a robot.  In a country that produces robots to do almost anything you can imagine, a robot to walk on the lunar surface is not so far-fetched.  The Japanese just may be the next nation to plant a flag on the dusty surface of Earth’s largest satellite.  That is the plan of the Osaka-based “Space Oriented Higashiosaka Leading Association” (SOHLA) which announced its goal of putting a robot on the moon by 2015.

SOHLA consists of six private space technology companies with connections to governmental space research institutions.  The group estimates it will take about $10.5 million to make the project work. SOHLA is trying to build on the success of the satellite it launched into orbit last year, Maido-1.  The bipedal humanoid robot planned for the Moon is tentatively named Maido-kun.

Some think that the mission of this pioneering robot should be more than a simply flag planting ceremony, but even if this machine does not discover any new resources for Japan, it may well show the world that the Japanese have set their sights on laying claim to whatever valuable materials may be located there in the future.  Read the story at the links below.

Image Credit: SOHLA via Popular Science

Story by Jeremy Hsu at Popular Science  "That's one small step for robots, one giant leap sideways for space exploration. …" 

See all stories on this topic

Via Popular ScienceCrunchGearNODE [JP], and Pink Tentacle

Bipedal Japanese Robot Will Walk on the Moon by 2015
Popular Science
Thu, 29 Apr 2010 15:27:51 GMT

Robot Space Shuttle to Aim for Space Next

The X-37 is the designation for a robotic shuttle craft built to demonstrate reusable technologies for future spacecraft and perform on-orbit operations in the near term.  Starting as a NASA project and later taken over by the Air Force, this winged robot is slated to fly into space on April 19, 2010.  It has faced many delays in getting to this point, but it now appears ready to launch to orbit.  After insertion into its orbit by an Atlas V rocket, it may stay up for several months.  In fact, it is designed to remain in space for up to 9 months to accomplish its objectives.  And its objectives are a closely guarded secret by the Air Force.

Read more about this experimental robotic space shuttle in the article linked to below.

Robot Space Shuttle

Photo Credit:  The Register

Get more from this author Long-delayed plans by the US to deploy a small robot space shuttle appear now to be approaching fruition,

Robot mini space shuttle is go for April, says US air force
Register
Mon, 15 Mar 2010 13:07:18 GMT

Seattle Team Robot Wins Space Elevator Challenge

Arthur C. Clarke brought this idea to the forefront in his 1979 novel "The Fountains of Paradise", but the idea dates back to 1895 when Konstantin Tsiolkovsky proposed “a free-standing tower reaching from the surface of Earth to geostationary orbit.”  Over the years, the idea has gone from impossible to a competition to build a robotic climber to demonstrate the feasibility of this concept.  Here are two stories on the prize winners from this contest.  Also, check out the 2009 Space Elevator Games website.  Go to You Tube to see video of this amazing robot in action.

LaserMotive Wins

(NASA photo / Tom Tschida)

Andy Petro of NASA's Centennial Challenges program congratulates Tom Nugent and Jordan Kare of the LaserMotive team that won the Space Elevator Power-Beaming Challenge Games at NASA Dryden Nov. 6, as Ben Shelef of the sponsoring Spaceward Foundation looks on. LaserMotive won the second-tier award of $900,000 by propelling their laser-powered robotic climber up a 900-meter cable suspended from a hovering helicopter in 3 minutes and 48 seconds.

Dryden Flight Research Center

Powered by a ground-based laser pointed up at the robot's photo voltaic cells that converted the light into electricity, the LaserMotive machine completed one of its climbs in about three minutes and 48 seconds, good for second-place money.

Seattle team wins $900,000 in Space Elevator Games – KTTC
(author unknown)
Sun, 08 Nov 2009 09:15:00 GMT

Robot Battalions Will Explore the Solar System

Up to this point in space exploration, robots have been solitary explorers commanded ultimately from Earth.  Sure, they may have used other spacecraft for communication relays as some Mars landers have done, but they have not been controlled by other machines.  Now, that may be changing.  As this story from the Telegraph states, “Robotic airships and satellites will fly above the surface of the distant world, commanding squadrons of wheeled rovers and floating robot boats, according to Wolfgang Fink of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).”  Robots will use networks to control other robots.  This will allow redundancy in the operations.  Cheap rovers and flyers can be deployed to explore the surface, while an orbiting spacecraft oversees the operations.  In order for this to work, the controlling robots must have the ability to make intelligent choices of where to send its minions or when to shut down a malfunctioning bot.  Prof Fink, director of Caltech's Visual and Autonomous Exploration Systems Research Laboratory, is leading his team in “developing software that would let a robotic explorer act independently and as part of a network. They would select priorities for exploration and anticipate and handle problems on their own.” 

Papers describing this new exploration are published in the journal Computer Methods and Programs in Biomedicine and in the Proceedings of the SPIE.  For more information on this work, visit http://autonomy.caltech.edu .  You can find information on JPL missions is at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/ .

Story is adapted from materials at Telegraph.co.uk, Science Daily and NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Telegraph.co.uk

Alien worlds may be explored by armies of flying, driving and sailing robots, say scientists.

By Tom Chivers

Robotic airships and satellites will fly above
See all stories on this topic

Robot armies 'will explore alien worlds'
Telegraph.co.uk
Wed, 28 Oct 2009 10:19:37 GMT

RobotNext Weekly Newswrap

This week’s newswrap features stories that deal with exploration.  Everything from underwater to climate in the arctic and beyond the Earth.  One story from earlier in the week deals with robot navigation in different situations.  Still, this story does cover an aspect of robotics that is important in exploration.  I hope you enjoy looking over the articles linked to below.  Let me know which ones you liked best.

Underwater robots to rapidly identify potential threats in murky … – Newstrack India

Washington, July 5 (ANI): A team of scientists is developing novel underwater laser networking and imaging technologies that will be used onboard a group of small, co-operating robots, which will be able to rapidly identify and communicate potential …

Underwater robots to rapidly identify potential threats in murky … – Newstrack India
Sun, 05 Jul 2009 06:15:00 GMT

 

NASA Suggests Nano Robots To Explore Mars (Slashdot)

"'We're going to have to do extensive robotic exploration,' says the director of NASA's Ames Research Center, suggesting nanotechnology to build self-replicating robots on Mars. Genetically engineering extraction and construction microbes could 'grow' electrical components, and eventually convert carbon dioxide on Mars into oxygen. 'If we really want to settle Mars, and we …

NASA Suggests Nano Robots To Explore Mars (Slashdot)
Thu, 02 Jul 2009 13:36:25 GMT


Robots Monitor the Melting Arctic

Earlier this year NOAA warned that increased global warming was combining with natural variability in the Arctic and could result in an ice-free Arctic in as little as 30 years, rather than the end of the century as predict by earlier models. This has created a sense of urgency among organizations studying the changes. NOAA and NASA have combined forces with Northrop Grumman to create a specially modified Global Hawk UAV that will make 6 long duration mission over the Arctic and the Pacific ocean to collect data in troposphere and lower stratosphere. .

Meanwhile, Seaglider robots have been deployed off Greenland to make more accurate measurements of Arctic sea currents. Scientist believe the Arctic runoff is already altering the density of sea water in the Labrador Sea, driving critical ocean circulation that affect the global climate.  Canada is also deploying two AUVs to scan the seabed to further their claims in the coming UN Convention that will determine which nations get sovereign rights to the new ocean areas forming as the Arctic melts.

Robots Monitor the Melting Arctic
Wed, 01 Jul 2009 16:41:32 GMT


Human-like Vision Lets Robots Navigate Naturally

ScienceDaily (June 30, 2009) — A robotic vision system that mimics key visual functions of the human brain promises to let robots maneuver quickly and
See all stories on this topic

Human-like Vision Lets Robots Navigate Naturally
Science Daily (press release) – USA
Tue, 30 Jun 2009 15:48:20 GMT


Intelligent Robot Probes to Explore Beyond Mars

Caltech scientists are working on intelligent exploratory craft which could investigate alien worlds without human instruction. While missions to MARS can be remotely controlled, as we set our sights further afield the light speed
The Daily Galaxy: Great Discoveries… – http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/

Intelligent Robot Probes to Explore Beyond Mars
Casey Kazan Daily Galaxy Editorial Staff
Tue, 30 Jun 2009 22:11:52 GMT