NASA funds development of an inflatable space robot

Robotics at Brigham Young University(BYU) with the financial support of NASA Aerospace Agency and in collaboration with the startup Pneubotics are developing the King Louie inflatable robot (King Louis, named after the orangutan from the jungle book 1967). Instead of a metal structure, it uses inflatable bags, precise control of air pressure (supplied through a compressor) in which it allows it to move and manipulate with its own hands. It is possible that in the future, these machines will be used in space stations, according to IEEE Spectrum.

These inflatable robots have manytangible benefits. They are cheaper to manufacture, made mostly of cloth and rubber and are very easy to repair. Compared to most other robots, they are unusually light. If necessary, they can be made as compact as possible (having lowered air) in order not to take up much space. In addition, despite their "softness", they can be strong and unexpectedly fast, because, in fact, hydraulic. Perhaps their most important advantage is that, unlike the metal counterparts, inflatable robots are completely safe for humans, because they do not use metal elements in their design.

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According to IEEE Spectrum, such robots onceThey can become an easy and economical alternative to metal robots or robotized weapons on all-terrain vehicles, shuttles or space stations.

Of course, they have drawbacks. For example, the control of the King Louie robot depends on a clear understanding of what the configuration of its limbs and joints is at any given time — inflatable robots cannot use the same sets of joint position sensors that are used in hard robots. BYU robotics nevertheless found a way to guide and train the robot so that it knows its size and the relevant commands, despite the slight changes caused by inflation. They equipped the robot’s hands with markers from the HTC Vive commercial motion tracking system and used it to estimate angles when moving.

Perhaps the biggest at the momentThe disadvantage of such robots is their clumsiness and difficulty in managing. Their moving parts twist and bend in ways that are difficult to model, and each time the robot descends and inflates again, its internal structure and, therefore, the behavior of the joints are somewhat different.

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NASA is funding this development becausebelieves that inflatable robots are ideal for space exploration due to its compactness, low weight, durability, ease of repair and safety. Nevertheless, their refinement to full practical use will require a lot of time. Especially when it comes to autonomy.

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