On April 12, 1961, Juri Gagarin was the first man in space. In 108 minutes he circumnavigated the earth and made history with it. A lot has happened since then. Meanwhile man also sends robots into space, as an extended arm so to speak. But what can robots do in space and which benefit do we have here on Earth?
Opportunity, Curiosity and only last November the robot InSight landed on Mars. Roughly speaking, they all serve the same purpose: the robots should explore the red planet more closely. How is Mars constructed, what stratas does it consist of and what is the surface like? Science and research are also concerned with the questions of life there and whether humans could colonise the planet in the future.
The results of space research also serve the developments on earth
But Mars isn’t the only place where research takes place. Various experiments are also being carried out on the International Space Station ISS. In addition to exploring the Earth and observing space, research in weightlessness is one of its main objectives. This is not only about sophisticated space technology – the results should also serve the developments here on Earth. Battery-powered screwdrivers, GPS systems and Velcro fasteners are just a few examples of the achievements that we owe to space research. But there is also a focus on research with robots
“Cimon, wake up!”
It was only in November 2018 that the German astronaut Alexander Gerst woke up the technology experiment CIMON with the words “CIMON, wake up!”. The answer came immediately: “I’m waiting for your commands.” CIMON is about the size of a medicine ball and weighs about five kilograms. It is the first astronaut assistant in space equipped with artificial intelligence (AI). The aim of the assistant is to investigate human-machine interaction in space.
CIMON stands for Crew Interactive Mobile Companion. And that is exactly what CIMON is supposed to be – an interactive, mobile companion for the crew. It can display and explain information or instructions on experiments and repairs, for example. The voice-controlled access enables the astronaut to work with both hands. This is not only important as support, but also increases the efficiency of the astronaut’s work.
Through various technological means, such as cameras or microphones, CIMON can see, hear, understand and speak. But he cannot learn by himself. The human being must actively train him, otherwise his abilities will not expand.
Rollin’Justin as Assistant for Astronauts in Space
Thanks to AI, Rollin’ Justin can also execute spoken commands. Rollin’ Justin is a humanoid robot, which means it is visually similar to humans. With a size of 1.91 m and a weight of around 200 kg, it serves as a technological platform for research in the field of service robotics. Therefore, its main areas of application are households and the assistance of astronauts in space.
Alexander Gerst steered the robot on Earth from the ISS to test how communication between space and earth works. Gerst used a tablet to indicate which steps the robot should perform – but not how. Rollin’ Justin was largely able to execute the commands independently and orient itself. Even an interruption of the radio contact did not significantly interfere with the experiment – a complete success.
So a lot has happened since Gagarin’s flight into space. It is conceivable that there will soon be an international robotic space flight day. If we could perhaps conquer Mars thanks to them.