Inspenet, September 23, 2023.
NASA has established a strategic collaboration with Apptronik, Inc., a Texas-based robotics company to advance the development of humanoid robots intended for use in space missions .
This partnership focuses on leveraging the modular and adaptable capabilities of Apptronik’s Apollo robot, with the goal of equipping astronauts with versatile robotic assistants to carry out tasks both in Earth orbit and on the Moon and possibly on Mars in the future. These humanoids could play a crucial role in ensuring safety and efficiency in future space explorations.
It’s important to remember that Apptronik’s Apollo robot, which is 5’8″ tall and weighs 160 lbs. This has been designed with a strong focus on its modularity and adaptability. Likewise, its versatile design allows it to perform a wide variety of tasks on Earth such as logistics, manufacturing and home healthcare.
Said robot has an autonomy of approximately four hours per battery pack and can carry loads of up to 55 pounds and what stands out especially is its ability to be reprogrammed and physically customized, which makes it suitable for a wide range of applications.
NASA, with its extensive experience in the field of robotics and space exploration, has played an active role in the development of the Apollo robot. This collaboration has focused on aspects such as robot mobility and the development of software design principles that ensure safe interactions between humans and robots. Shaun Azimi, leader of NASA’s Skilled Robotics team, highlighted the importance of this partnership in promoting innovation and enhancing the potential benefits of robotics technology, both in terrestrial and space applications.
The implementation of humanoid robots like Apollo in space missions offers great potential. These robots are capable of carrying out monotonous or dangerous tasks on celestial bodies, such as building shelters or collecting rock samples, allowing astronauts to focus on scientific activities. Additionally, these robots could play a critical role in operating and maintaining mining and manufacturing facilities on other planets, which in turn could reduce mission costs by taking advantage of local resources.
Robots: increasingly necessary?
The inclusion of robots in NASA’s Artemis project could be of great importance in achieving a lasting human presence on the Moon and, eventually, Mars. The ability to adjust and reprogram robots according to changing needs is crucial in the context of long missions. By employing robots in activities such as unloading landers on the Moon, space agencies can increase the safety and effectiveness of such missions.
NASA’s commitment to robotics goes beyond its collaboration with Apptronik. The CoSTAR project, led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, focuses on adapting commercially available robots so that they can autonomously navigate the challenging terrains of the Moon and Mars. The next Dragonfly mission, scheduled to launch in 2027, will deploy an autonomous helicopter to Saturn’s largest moon Titan in 2034, marking a revolution in exploration capabilities.
Notably, NASA’s collaboration with private companies in the field of robotics aligns with its strategic approach of using private vehicles for its space missions, in a similar vein to its partnership with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon for space flights. This approach not only revitalizes the space industry, but also generates significant cost reductions for NASA. Proponents argue that leveraging the expertise of the private robotics industry is a logical step to advance space robotics.
Collaboration between NASA and robotics companies such as Apptronik is anticipated to lead to broader economic benefits. Analogous to how the Apollo program spurred semiconductor development in the United States, advances in robotics technology intended for space missions are likely to have significant impacts. Technologies developed for space exploration can find applications in sectors such as autonomous vehicles, manufacturing and others, ultimately benefiting society as a whole.