NASA has partnered with Texas-based robotics firm Apptronik, Inc. to advance the development of humanoid robots for space exploration. The collaboration aims to adapt the capabilities of the Apollo robot, designed by Apptronik, to assist astronauts in various tasks while living and working in orbit, on the moon, and potentially on Mars. These robots could even be used as remote-controlled “avatars” by human operators on Earth to explore other worlds.
The modularity of Apollo’s design has been a key focus for Apptronik. With a height of 5’8″ and weight of 160 pounds, Apollo is designed to have a run time of about four hours per battery pack and a payload capacity of 55 pounds. While currently targeted towards Earth-based customers, such as retail and manufacturing operations, NASA’s interest in Apollo stems from the potential of utilizing these robots for space missions.
Apollo’s flexibility allows for reprogrammability and physical customization. It already features varying dexterity levels, autonomous functions, and interchangeable tools, with more functionality expected to evolve as development progresses. NASA has contributed its expertise in robotics, particularly in areas like robotic mobility and software design principles for safe human-robot interactions, to assist in the development of Apollo.
The use of humanoid robots in future space missions could significantly enhance safety and efficiency. Unloading lunar landers with robots instead of humans, for example, would reduce risks and improve effectiveness. General-purpose robots capable of performing a range of tasks on planetary surfaces could alleviate astronauts’ burden and allow them to focus on scientific exploration. Additionally, these robots could operate and maintain mining and manufacturing facilities on other worlds, reducing the costs of maintaining missions.
Incorporating robots into NASA’s Artemis program could be critical for establishing a sustainable human presence on the moon and potentially Mars. The agency is actively pursuing various robotic initiatives, including the CoSTAR project, which aims to navigate the moon and Mars subsurface terrains with autonomous robots. NASA’s Dragonfly mission is also set to launch an autonomous rotorcraft to explore Saturn’s moon, Titan.
Collaborating with commercial robotics companies, similar to the partnership with Apptronik, aligns with NASA’s strategy of leveraging private sector capabilities and advancements. This approach has proven successful in the past, such as with the Commercial Crew Program, which has revitalized the space industry while saving costs for NASA. The development of advanced robotics for space exploration will not only benefit NASA but also have wider economic impacts and potential consumer applications.
– NASA Teams Up with Texas-Based Apptronik, Inc. to Develop Humanoid Robots for Space Exploration
– Image Credit: NASA