NASA Develops Water-Extracting Robot for Exploration

February 13, 2013

When it comes to exploring uncharted territories, we’re pretty limited by the tech that can get us there, whether it’s the dark and highly pressurized ocean depths or far-off planets and moons. Despite the lack of warp drives and transporters, NASA is hard at work to push the technological envelope and keep our opportunities for exploration open.

NASA Now Has Robot Gas Station for Space, Robot Miner for the Moon
by Evan Ackerman

This little guy is named RASSOR, which is obviously pronounced “razor” and equally obviously stands for “Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot.” Regolith is a fancy geology word for dirt, and RASSOR is designed to autonomously drive around the Moon and scoop up dirt with those toothy drums. The entire robot only weighs about 100 pounds, but it can haul up to 40 pounds of dirt. The idea is that RASSOR would be sent to the Moon along with a larger lander, and then autonomously rove around 16 hours a day, pouring loads of dirt into a processing plant on the lander which would extract water, hydrogen, and oxygen from it. Let the system run for long enough, and we could head to the Moon knowing that there’s a nice big pile of water, air, and rocket fuel waiting there for us.

Read the full article at IEEE Spectrum. It’s hard not to have your imagination piqued by images of terraforming robots and space colonies! Do you think space robotics will one day become a sizable part of the industry? What private companies do you know of that are working hard on aerospace applications?


Curiosity Flexes its Robotic Arm

October 2, 2012

The NASA Mars rover Curiosity is an incredible feat of science and engineering. Last week, Curiosity used its multi-tooled robotic arm to examine a Mars rock, but NASA engineer Ashítey Trebi-Ollennu hopes that the tech on Curiosity will be available for companies here.

How the Curiosity rover’s robotic arm is blazing a trail on Mars … and Earth
by Alan Boyle

The fact that robotic operations can be conducted so smoothly from so far away is a good sign for telerobotics on Earth, Trebi-Ollennu said. He foresees a day when a “factory in a can” could be delivered to a remote location — say, a nuclear cleanup site in Japan or an oil spill in the depths of the Gulf of Mexico — and go about its business as if humans were on the scene.

“You could have somebody several thousand miles away and operate this factory in a can remotely,” Trebi-Ollennu said. “If you have a factory in the can, you can have the level of penetration that you have with cellphones today.”


Another innovation with potential earthly applications is the rover’s array of piezoelectric actuators, which use electrical impulses to shake powdered rock and soil out of its sampling containers and into its SAM and CheMin laboratories. “These have the potential of having a very big impact in the pharmaceutical industry,” Trebi-Olennu said.

Read the full article at here. How could you imagine the robotic tech on Curiosity being used in commercial industries?

From the Stars to the Factory Floor – Software to Help Design

August 15, 2012

In NASA’s pioneering efforts to continually push the frontier of space exploration, they’ve turned to the robotics and automation industries for help more than once. But now NASA is returning the favor — a software program called HyperSizer, developed by Collier Research Corp., assisted them in the construction of their new Composite Crew Module (CCM), and they’re releasing the software for use by US industries.

NASA Tool Could Cross Over to Manufacturing

by Peter Alpern

The design and construction of NASA’s Composite Crew Module was optimized with the help of HyperSizer structural sizing and design analysis software.

HyperSizer is a structural sizing and design optimization software tool that works in a feedback loop with finite element analysis (FEA) to automatically search for solutions that minimize weight and maximize manufacturability. Although it can also be used on metallic structures, HyperSizer is particularly applicable to complex composite materials, providing the capability to optimize the architecture of large structures such as aircraft, railcars, or wind turbine blades ply-by-ply and element-by-element.

NASA’s CCM is an all-composite alternative for the flight crew module Orion, which is part of NASA’s Constellation program to return man to the moon or go to Mars. The recent tests were considered a milestone in the design of human-rated spacecraft that points toward increased use of lightweight composites in space vehicles.

Read the full article from IndustryWeek  here. How could use of this software influence the way engineers design robots and other automation technology?

GM, NASA Jointly Developing Robotic Gloves for Human Use

March 21, 2012

Robonaut technology coming to the factory floor or space station soon

GM RoboGloveHOUSTON – General Motors and NASA are jointly developing a robotic glove that auto workers and astronauts can wear to help do their respective jobs better while potentially reducing the risk of repetitive stress injuries.

The Human Grasp Assist device, known internally in both organizations as the K-glove or Robo-Glove, resulted from GM and NASA’s Robonaut 2 (R2) project, which launched the first human-like robot into space in 2011. R2 is a permanent resident of the International Space Station.

When engineers, researchers and scientists from GM and NASA began collaborating on R2 in 2007, one of the design requirements was for the robot to operate tools designed for humans, alongside astronauts in outer space and factory workers on Earth. The team achieved an unprecedented level of hand dexterity on R2 by using leading-edge sensors, actuators and tendons comparable to the nerves, muscles and tendons in a human hand.

Research shows that continuously gripping a tool can cause fatigue in hand muscles within a few minutes. Initial testing of the Robo-Glove indicates the wearer can hold a grip longer and more comfortably.

“When fully developed, the Robo-Glove has the potential to reduce the amount of force that an auto worker would need to exert when operating a tool for an extended time or with repetitive motions,” said Dana Komin, GM’s manufacturing engineering director, Global Automation Strategy and Execution. “In so doing, it is expected to reduce the risk of repetitive stress injury.”

GM Robo-Glove video

For example, an astronaut working in a pressurized suit outside the space station or an assembly operator in a factory might need to use 15-20 pounds of force to hold a tool during an operation but with the robotic glove only five-to-10 pounds of force might need to be applied.

“The prototype glove offers my space suit team a promising opportunity to explore new ideas, and challenges our traditional thinking of what extravehicular activity hand dexterity could be,” said Trish Petete, division chief, Crew and Thermal Systems Division, NASA Johnson Space Center.

GM RoboGlove developed with NASAInspired by the finger actuation system of R2, actuators are embedded into the upper portion of the glove to provide grasping support to human fingers. The pressure sensors, similar to the sensors that give R2 its sense of touch are incorporated into the fingertips of the glove to detect when the user is grasping a tool. When the user grasps the tool, the synthetic tendons automatically retract, pulling the fingers into a gripping position and holding them there until the sensor is released.

GM and NASA have submitted 46 patent applications for R2, including 21 for R2’s hand and four for the Robo-Glove alone.

The first prototype of the glove was completed in March 2011 with a second generation arriving three months later. The fabric for the glove was produced by Oceaneering Space Systems, the same company that provided R2’s “skin.”

The current prototypes weigh about two pounds and include the control electronics, actuators and a small display for programming and diagnostics. An off-the-shelf lithium-ion power-tool battery with a belt-clip is used to power the system. A third-generation prototype that will use repackaged components to reduce the size and weight of the system is nearing completion.

“We are continuously looking for ways to improve safety and productivity on the shop floor,” Komin said. “Our goal is to bring this technology to the shop floor in the near future.”

NASA and GM have a long, rich history of partnering on key technologies, starting in the 1960s with the development of the navigation systems for the Apollo missions. GM also played a vital role in the development of the Lunar Rover Vehicle, the first vehicle used on the moon.

About General Motors
General Motors Co. (NYSE:GM, TSX: GMM) and its partners produce vehicles in 30 countries, and the company has leadership positions in the world’s largest and fastest-growing automotive markets. GM’s brands include Chevrolet and Cadillac, as well as Baojun, Buick, GMC, Holden, Isuzu, Jiefang, Opel, Vauxhall and Wuling. More information on the company and its subsidiaries, including OnStar, a global leader in vehicle safety, security and information services, can be found at

About NASA Johnson Space Center
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research. Since February 2006, NASA’s mission statement has been to “pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research.” The Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center is the NASA’s center for human spaceflight training, research and flight control in Houston, Texas, USA. Johnson Space Center is home to the United States astronaut corps and is responsible for training astronauts from both the U.S. and its international partners.

NASA/GM Humanoid Robot Ushers in New Generation of Industrial Robots

February 5, 2010

By Jim Adams, Manager, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries Association

robonaut, nasa, gm, space, robot, RIA, robotic industries association

NASA and GM take a big leap forward in robotics

When I first saw the pictures and read the text in the Detroit Free Press online posting about the new General Motors and NASA next generation advanced robot, it immediately took me back to an American Nuclear Society’s conference on Robotics and Remote Systems that RIA had exhibited at in 2004.  One of the presentations there was on the predecessor of this new Robonaut2 robot.  At that time, it was a “torso-only,” humanoid-style robot designed expressly for space exploration.

So, it was good to see this “old friend” again.  This time however, the new Robonaut2 can perform as an industrial robot as well, but it doesn’t look at all like the industrial robots we are all familiar with toiling in many plant and manufacturing applications.  In fact, this robot is more in line with what we depicted robots would look like when we were growing up as kids.  In that sense it is a leap forward.  But the real news here is that robotics technology has advanced to the point where robots and humans can safely work side by side.  R2, with its friendly, humanoid appearance, may also lead to a whole new way of looking at robots and herald in a new line of thinking about and interacting with them as well. 

It’s nice to see RIA Platinum User member, General Motors Corporation, leading the way and on the cutting edge of robot technology, despite some recent tough times.  And it’s nice to see old friends again.

Let us know your thoughts.