There are some things only humans can do in space. The rest can be left to robots. To free up valuable time for astronauts living and working aboard the International Space Station, NASA is sending three robotic helpers to the orbiting outpost. Developed and built at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley, the cube-shaped Astrobee robots will each stay as busy as a bee flying around the space station and assisting crew with routine tasks like maintenance and tracking inventory. The robots will also help researchers on the ground carry out experiments, test new technologies and study human-robot interaction in space. Learning how robots can best work with humans in close proximity will be key for exploring the Moon and other destinations. For more information see the IDTechEx report on Mobile Robots and Drones in Material Handling and Logistics 20182-2028.
The Astrobee robots were tested inside a special lab at NASA's Ames Research Center where researchers created a mockup of the space station's interior.
The flying robots are propelled by fans. They can move in any direction and turn on any axis in space and each robot is equipped with cameras and sensors for navigating inside the space station and avoiding obstacles.
Astrobee is battery powered. When its battery runs low, the robot will autonomously navigate and dock to a power station to recharge. Astrobees have a robotic arm that can be attached for handling cargo or running experiments.
The robots can operate in either fully automated mode or under remote control by astronauts or researchers on Earth.
Astrobee builds on the success of SPHERES, NASA's first-generation robotic assistant that arrived at the space station in 2006.
Two of the three Astrobee robots are scheduled to launch to space this month from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
Source and top image: NASA
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