20 May 2019 
 
1 April 2019

Hannover Messe: The next generation of autonomous space robots

Today, robots in space are mostly either passive observers or controlled by humans from Earth. Soon they will have to operate independently and over long periods of time under extreme conditions. In order to meet the high demands on the systems, the Robotics Innovation Center of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI, Hall 2, booth C59) is developing new concepts.

Photo: DFKI GmbH, Foto: Thomas FrankPhoto: DFKI GmbH, Foto: Thomas Frank
Field trials in Morocco
The DFKI is developing innovative hardware and software concepts that it is testing on Earth as part of so-called analogue missions. The scientists will be presenting their research as well as robotic space systems at the DFKI booth (hall 2, booth C59) at the Hannover Messe.

In future space missions, robots will be used for increasingly complex tasks: On foreign planets they shall penetrate into difficult-to-reach areas such as caves and craters, build infrastructure for future base camps, carry out maintenance and repair work on satellites in orbit or remove space debris from the Earth’s orbit. However, remote control of systems from Earth is not practicable, simply because of the delayed communication to distant celestial bodies. That is why future space robots have to become independent actors.

The DFKI Robotics Innovation Center headed by Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Frank Kirchner develops autonomous robot technologies for space operation, which are able to perceive their environment comprehensively thanks to a multitude of different sensors. For environment perception, localization, and motion planning, the Bremen researchers rely on AI methods and algorithms, e.g. machine learning methods.

These enable the robots not only to act and make decisions autonomously, but also to learn from their own behavior. This is the only possible way to make use of robots on planetary and orbital missions over long periods of time and without human intervention. In order to be able to penetrate difficult and scientifically particularly interesting terrain on foreign planets, the scientists develop innovative, highly complex and biologically inspired mobility and morphology concepts: from multi-unit walking robots to hybrid systems with leg-wheel constructions and walkable rovers with active chassis to upright and climbing systems in human-like form.

Due to their modularity and reconfigurability, these systems can be flexibly adapted to different conditions and tasks. This enables them to carry out demanding space missions alone, in robotic teams or in cooperation with humans. If necessary, the autonomous robots should also be remote controllable from Earth or the spacecraft. Especially for tasks that require a high degree of flexibility, it may be necessary for humans to intervene in the mission. The DFKI researchers are developing novel teleoperation technologies that are characterized by intuitive operation. For example, remote control can be carried out via a control station using a portable exoskeleton that enables force feedback. In this way, the human operator senses when the system encounters an obstacle and thus feels like being part of the action. In the future, robots and astronauts will also work collaboratively together in space, e.g. to set up infrastructure.

https://www.dfki.de/web/
https://www.hannovermesse.de/

 


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