FIGURE 8. Space Station's CanadArm2 positions an astronaut.
FIGURE 9. Rethink Robotics' Baxter.
keep the humans alive — not only for
the outbound trip and the time on the
planet’s surface, but for the return
trip, as well.
Of course, electrical power
generation equipment, scientific
analysis tools, space suits, radiation
shielding, and a habitat large enough
for two people to live, eat, and do
work in is also required. Another major
item to consider is the space ‘vehicle’
to launch them from the surface of
the planet back to Earth.
Although the surface gravity on
Mars is only one-third that of Earth,
the vehicle would have to be quite a
bit larger than the Apollo lunar Earth-return vehicles to carry the astronauts
and their life support supplies and
food. So, with these two scenarios in
mind, which would you choose:
people or a robot?
Other Applications for
It’s a bit obvious that I appreciate
the technology involved in the
development of space robotics
considering that I spent over a decade
working in various NASA programs.
Robot spacecraft can actually be two
Can Robots Work
Side by Side with
Rodney Brooks, co-founder of
iRobot and MIT professor, is CEO of
Rethink Robotics. His company’s
product, Baxter, does not resemble
any other industrial robot ever
produced. The gray and bright red
two-armed robot with a friendly face
displayed upon its LCD screen is
Brooks’ latest venture to change how
industry perceives robots. Shown in
Figure 9, Baxter is placing newly
machined gears into a shipping box.
What makes Baxter different is it is
designed to work alongside humans.
Baxter uses Willow Garage’s open
source Robot Operating System (ROS)
language and is trained for each new
job by a factory person showing the
robot how to perform the task. A
recent article in Forbes Magazine
covered Brook’s endeavor. “Baxter is
also a complete system that can be
unpackaged and working in less than
an hour, and be trained by
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