Satellite Robots

With the new Transformers film now in theaters, it is only fitting to discuss robots. The San Diego Union-Tribune takes-up machines based on nature:

“The Wright brothers learned how to control (a plane’s) direction by watching hawks in flight,” he said. “They figured out that turning a plane had to do with changing wing surfaces, though not the way hawks did it.

“That’s an important distinction. The Wright brothers drew inspiration from biology, but they didn’t exactly copy it.”

Robotic designs based upon natural organisms are as diverse as the animal world itself. There are devices in the works that mimic caterpillars, spiders, dogs and octopuses. Their goals and purposes are equally varied, from new medical treatments to space labor to being a soldier’s best friend.

The satellite business took note:

In January, a pair of small robots developed by European and Japanese scientists took their first steps in space – not steps, actually, since the robots lacked legs, but the feat was still a giant leap for robotkind.

During the brief suborbital flight Jan. 22, a rocket launched from Japan released a satellite that, in turn, deployed three daughter satellites. These three pulled out a 360-square-yard triangular net with the mother satellite at its center.

From the mother satellite, two palm-sized robots then crawled onto the net like spiders moving across a web. To avoid drifting off in zero-gravity, the spiderbots were equipped with a series of wheels that gripped both sides of the netting.

The experiment did not last very long. One spiderbot stalled after just five seconds of movement; the other after 30 seconds.

Engineers say the problem was likely knots in the net. But they contend the experiment was a conceptual success. They say the technology may ultimately revolutionize the satellite industry because large, costly antennas and solar panels could be launched from small, inexpensive rockets, then assembled in space by tiny robots.

What was the design inspiration?

Bernhard Putz, responsible for their design took advantage of the experience gained during several years of very successful robot soccer games. The viennese team regularily ends up in the final of European and World championships and is renouned for its innovative and robust designs. (link)