RoundupReads Robotics workshop showcases hands-off capabilities useful in space and on the ground

Robotics workshop showcases hands-off capabilities useful in space and on the ground


NASA’s Software, Robotics and Simulation Division hosted their second robotics workshop this summer in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center from July 24 to 28.


The event partnered with the United States Department of Defense Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office, attendees from local and federal law enforcement offices, NASA engineers and the military. Also in attendance was Johnson’s summer robot academy—a program for incoming college freshman interested in robotics.


The event kicked off with a day-long orientation that introduced participants to the workshop and familiarized them with the task for the week: construct a robot to fly on a drone and drill a hole through the top of a truck to detect possible explosives inside.


Lucien Junkin, a NASA robotics engineer and organizer of the workshops, said, “The challenge is laid out based on something that is of interest to the bomb tech community, and we put a few constraints on it from a construction standpoint, but not many.”


On the second day of the event, participants were broken up into four teams, with each team having some professionals and students from the robot academy. The teams were given criteria for their robots and had three days to prototype and build.


The teams had to build a robot that did not exceed the 15-pound payload of the drone and also had to make sure it could be remotely operated, using cameras to navigate the robot.


“The teams were judged on what they identified in the truck, how fast they accomplished the activity and if they were successful in the overall flight,” Junkin said. “There will also be style points awarded for things like not rattling the truck when they land on it.”


The attendees were welcome to be as innovate as they wanted to as long as it followed the criteria.


On the final day of the event, each team went head to head, seeing who had the fastest and most efficient robot. Each team had one minute and 30 seconds to fly the drone to the top of the box and drill a hole in which a camera could be lowered into to investigate the contents of the truck.


The robotics technology being used at the workshops is also being used to further space exploration.


Robert Ambrose, principal technologist of the Game Changing Development Program in the Software, Robotics and Simulation Division, indicated that robotics are an important part of space exploration.


“We’re serious about inspection robots for human spaceflight,” Ambrose said. “They’re very important. Inspecting a human spacecraft is critical to mission success. Right now we’re using the arms on the space station to do inspections all the time, and we’re currently working on some new free-fliers.”


This technology helps astronauts perform tasks aboard the International Space Station and will eventually help astronauts be successful in deep space missions.



Madison Tuttle

NASA Johnson Space Center

Members of a team collaborate at a work station in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility, where the robotics workshop took place. Image Credit: NASA/Josh Valcarcel
Team members watch on a monitor as their robot is flown on a drone. Image Credit: NASA/Josh Valcarcel
A drone flies one of the team’s robots toward the roof of a truck. The drones had a payload of 15 pounds. Image Credit: NASA/Josh Valcarcel