NASA is funding the development of an inflatable robot for space

Robotics University named for Brigham young (BYU), with financial support from space Agency NASA, and in cooperation with startup Pneubotics are developing inflatable robot King Louie (“King Louis” was named in honor of orangutan from the cartoon “the jungle Book” 1967). Instead of a metal design uses inflatable bags, precise control of air pressure (supplied through the compressor) which allows him to move around and manipulate with their hands. It is possible that in the future these machines will be used on space stations, reports IEEE Spectrum.

These inflatable robots there are many tangible benefits. They are cheaper to manufacture, made largely of fabric and rubber and they are very easy to fix. Compared to most other robots, they are extremely light. If necessary, you can make them as compact as possible (after air) that does not take up much space. In addition, despite its “softness”, they can be strong and surprisingly fast, because, in fact, hydraulic. Perhaps the most important advantage is that unlike metal counterparts, inflatable robots completely safe for humans, since it is not used in its construction metal elements.

According to IEEE Spectrum-like robots may one day become easy and economical to work in space, alternative metal robots, or robotic arms on Rovers, shuttles or space stations.

Of course, they have drawbacks. For example, the control of the robot King Louie depends on a clear understanding of what the configuration of his limbs and joints at any point in time is the inflatable robots can’t use the same set of position sensors of the joints that are used in hard robots. Robotics BYU however has found a way to guide and train the robot to know its dimensions and the appropriate commands, despite the small changes caused by inflation. They have equipped the robot arm markers from a commercial tracking system HTC Vive and used it to evaluate angles during movement.

Perhaps the largest to date, the drawback of such robots is their clumsiness and difficulty in management. Their moving parts are twisted and bent in ways that are hard to model, and every time when the robot descends and is inflated, its inner structure and thus the behavior of the joints are somewhat different.

NASA is funding this development, because it believes that an inflatable robots are ideal for space exploration due to its compactness, low weight, durability, ease of repair and security. However, their redesign to a full-fledged practical use will require a lot of time. Especially if we are talking about autonomy.

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