Space Justin Robot Will Fix Your Satellites, Look Cool Doing It

Teleoperated robots are working hard to be space handymen

2 min read
Space Justin Robot Will Fix Your Satellites, Look Cool Doing It

If your satellite isn't so far gone as to require harvesting and zombification by DARPA but could still use a tune-up, SpaceJustin the Space Robot is here to help. Or at least, they're working on it over at DLR.

To feel with your own hands what the robotic hand is touching. To see exactly what the robot's eyes are seeing. Researchers from the Robotics and Mechatronics Center at the DLR site in Oberpfaffenhofen can now operate their SpaceJustin robot remotely; they not only control the robot, but receive feedback as well. In the future, this interactive service can be used when SpaceJustin is in space repairing satellites, operating switches or exchanging modules.

The general goal is the design of a new generation of multisensory light-weight robots for space applications which are operable by astronauts as well as from groundstations, based on powerful telerobotic concepts and man-machine-interfaces.

It's like you're getting hugged by giant robot arms! Aww!

The appeal of humanoid robots in space isn't just that they can take over some tasks from humans to free the humans up to do other things, as with NASA's Robonaut on the ISS, but it's that we can potentially use robots to take over from humans completely in many common scenarios. Humans are not at all designed for space travel: we're soft, we're squishy, and we're full of things that will freeze or explode when exposed to what you'll typically find in space. We can make it work with very complicated equipment, but it's expensive, and dangerous.

We're not saying that humans don't have a place in space; we absolutely do. We're explorers, and we belong up there and beyond. But, having humans in space doing stuff that could be done by robots is a waste of both money and talent. Humans should be doing science and going to Mars, and robots should be doing ISS maintenance and fixing satellites. The frustrating part at the moment is that getting robots to the point where they can start contributing in a meaningful way is a very slow and careful process, and Robonaut (for example) can only really be tested in space with constant human supervision, and the human astronauts are too busy doing tasks that should be done by robots to get the robot that could free up time for them to work on tasks like robots, to work on the robot.

Um, I'm pretty sure that all just made sense.

[ DLR ]

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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