AILA ISS shows off her new hands (image copyright DFKI)
DFKI Bremen’s humanoid robot AILA is being readied for work in space, thanks to 3.8 Million euros in funding by the German Aerospace Center (DLR). Project BesMan (Behaviors for Mobile Manipulation) will run the next four years to develop the control software necessary to teleoperate robots in space. Specifically, the robot will mimic human movements of the torso, arms, and hands. Already AILA has been given a new pair of five-fingered hands which are much more capable than the fingerless pads it had before (they only picked up boxes, which doesn’t really require fingers).
Like NASA’s Robonaut R2 and Russia’s SAR-400, AILA ISS will be required to grasp and use tools as well as operate control panels. Although it will be teleoperated by a human on Earth most of the time, it will also need to perceive changes in the environment and act independently should the need arise. But the researchers are already thinking beyond the space station: the software will be designed to work with robots of varying shapes; from humanoids like DLR’s Justin, to multi-legged climbing robots. It could then be used to teleoperate robots designed to assemble solar panel energy stations on the Moon ahead of a manned mission.
In order to recreate human-like movements, the researchers are experimenting with a motion-capture system. Basically a researcher in the lab performs an action which is then simulated on the computer. The software will break up the movements into smaller segments that can be sent into space and used when necessary. “We must build systems that approach the capabilities of people,” says Prof. Dr. Frank Kirchner, Director of DFKI Robotics Innovation Center and the Robotics Group at the University of Bremen.
Although the initial investment may seem pricey, sending robots rather than people into space is much safer and will ultimately save millions.