This Is the Most Powerful Robot Arm Ever Installed on a Mars Rover

How NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory designed the robot arm for the Mars 2020 rover Last month, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory wrapped up the installation of the Mars 2020 rover’s 2.1-meter-long robot arm. This is the most powerful arm ever installed on a Mars rover. Even though the Mars 2020 rover shares much of its design with Curiosity, the new arm was redesigned to be able to do much more complex science, drilling into rocks to collect samples that can be stored for later recovery. JPL is well known for developing robots that do amazing work in incredibly distant and hostile environments. The Opportunity Mars rover, to name just one example, had a 90-day planned mission but remained operational for 5,498 days in a robot unfriendly place full of dust and wild temperature swings where even the most basic maintenance or repair is utterly impossible. (Its twin rover, Spirit, Continue reading This Is the Most Powerful Robot Arm Ever Installed on a Mars Rover

Robonaut and Astrobee Will Work Together on Space Station

NASA’s robots will help each other with useful tasks on the International Space Station NASA has two robots that will, hopefully, be operating on the International Space Station (ISS) this year. There’s Robonaut, a humanoid (complete with legs) that will be on its way up there later this year, as well as Astrobee, a family of three free-flying robotic cubes that are already on the ISS as of a few weeks ago. Astrobee and Robonaut are totally different in both form and function, but that just means that they have skills and abilities that complement each other, and the teams working on these robots have been making plans for on-orbit teamwork. To learn more about this collaboration, we spoke to Astrobee technical lead Trey Smith and Robonaut project manager Julia Badger.

NASA’s Robonaut to Return to Space Station With Legs Attached

NASA has fixed Robonaut and is nearly ready to send it back to the International Space Station A little over a year ago, we reported on the status of the Robonaut 2 on the International Space Station. Things had not gone all that well for R2 ever since an attempt had been made to install a pair of legs back in 2014, leading to an intermittent power problem that was very hard to diagnose. NASA brought Robonaut back to Earth last year for repairs, and a few weeks ago, we stopped by NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, to visit the Robonaut lab and get an update on what’s been happening with R2.

NASA Launching Astrobee Robots to Space Station Tomorrow

A pair of autonomous, free-flying robots will be on their way to the ISS It’s been a little over two years since we were first introduced to Astrobee, an autonomous robotic cube designed to fly around the International Space Station. Tomorrow, a pair of Astrobee robots (named Honey and Bumble) will launch to the ISS aboard a Cygnus cargo flight. There’s already a nice comfy dock waiting for them in the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM), and the plan is to put them to work as soon as possible. After a bit of astronaut-assisted setup, the robots will buzz around autonomously, doing experiments and taking video, even operating without direct human supervision on occasion. NASA has big plans for these little robots, and before they head off to space, we checked in with folks from the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., to learn about what we have Continue reading NASA Launching Astrobee Robots to Space Station Tomorrow

GITAI Partners With JAXA to Send Telepresence Robots to Space

The founder and CEO of SCHAFT joins space robotics startup GITAI to develop telepresence robots GITAI is a robotics startup with offices in Japan and the United States that’s developing tech to put humanoid telepresence robots in space to take over for astronauts. Today, GITAI is announcing a joint research agreement with JAXA (the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency) to see what it takes for robots to be useful in orbit, with the goal of substantially reducing the amount of money spent sending food and air up to those demanding humans on the International Space Station.

AI Learns to Guide Planetary Rovers Without GPS

Deep learning could help robotic rovers figure out their location on the moon and Mars A Mars rover roaming the red planet cannot whip out a smartphone to check its location based on GPS. Instead, the robotic explorer must take panoramic pictures of the surrounding landscape so that a human back on Earth can painstakingly compare the ground images with Mars satellite maps taken from above by orbiting spacecraft.

JAXA Wants Telepresence Robots for In-Space Construction and Exploration

The AVATAR X program will send telepresence robots to the ISS and beyond Last Monday, we covered the new, updated, and way way better guidelines for the ANA Avatar XPRIZE. Since we were mostly talking with the folks over at XPRIZE, we didn’t realize that ANA (All Nippon Airways) is putting a massive amount of effort into this avatar concept— they’re partnering with JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, “to create a new space industry centered around real-world avatars.” 

Explore New Worlds With JPL’s Open Source Rover

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab has adapted a Mars rover design into something that you can build in your garage NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Mars rovers have a special place in my heart. I loved seeing pictures of Sojourner nuzzling up to rocks, and I still wonder whether it managed to drive around the Pathfinder lander after contact was lost. Spirit going silent was heartbreaking, and Opportunity continues to inspire so far beyond its expected lifetime, even as a dust storm threatens to starve it to death. And I particularly remember thinking how insane it was that Curiosity was going to drop onto the surface from a hovering robotic sky crane (!), and then being entirely overwhelmed to watch it happen flawlessly from the media room at JPL.  I’m not the only person who thinks that JPL’s rovers are incredible, and other rover fans have been pestering the roboticists at JPL for Continue reading Explore New Worlds With JPL’s Open Source Rover

Watch This Robotic Intestine Puke Rocket Fuel

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency may start to manufacture solid rocket fuel with puking robot intestines Image: Kazumichi Moriyama via YouTube This is literally a robotic intestine puking rocket fuel. It’s being developed in Japan, by roboticists from Chuo University and JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. You’ll be relieved to learn that it’s a robotic intestine puking rocket fuel with a purpose: It’s designed to replicate the peristaltic motion of a real intestine in order to gently mix ingredients to make solid rocket fuel. The researchers say their machine is safer than conventional mixers because the fuel doesn’t experience high shear stress inside the undulating rubber tubing and is never in contact with metal, avoiding the risk of fire and explosions. The idea is to turn the solid rocket fuel manufacturing process into a continuous operation rather than a discrete one, replacing rocket fuel mixing bowls that give you Continue reading Watch This Robotic Intestine Puke Rocket Fuel

Robonaut Has Been Broken for Years, and Now NASA Is Bringing It Home

A mysterious hardware problem has kept the ISS Robonaut out of action since at least 2015, so it’s returning to Earth for a fix Photo: NASA In February of 2011, NASA launched Robonaut 2 to the International Space Station. It was a huge achievement for the robotics team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. There had been other robots in space, but Robonaut was the first advanced humanoid to ever go on a mission beyond Earth. On board the ISS, the robot was intended to eventually work side by side with astronauts, performing some of the dull and repetitive tasks that take up a significant amount of time that the humans on the station could instead be spending on science and discovery. For a while, things went well. The robot was unboxed from its protective foam packaging, and set up in the Destiny laboratory module. It was powered up for the first Continue reading Robonaut Has Been Broken for Years, and Now NASA Is Bringing It Home