GITAI Aims to Bring Autonomous Robot Workers to Space
Jeffrey Heimgartner posted on October 05, 2020 |
GITAI will conduct a technical demonstration of autonomous robot, S1, aboard the ISS in 2021.

Upon hearing the phrase, “robots in space,” one might have an image flash of a corny 60s sci-fi movie, but startup GITAI has its sights on making that a reality in 2021. The space robotics company, which was founded in 2016, is on track for conducting a technical demonstration on the International Space Station (ISS), in collaboration with Nanoracks.

An artist's rendering brings to life GITAI’s vision of robots working on the International Space Station. (Image courtesy of GITAI.)
An artist's rendering brings to life GITAI’s vision of robots working on the International Space Station. (Image courtesy of GITAI.)

Since its start, GITAI has focused its efforts on various robots for space. Its G1, which is a humanoid torso, was its most advanced machine. It was designed to be controlled by an immersive telepresence system. For the technical demonstration, the company is moving toward more autonomous methods with its S1, a mountable robotic arm with 8 degrees of freedom and 1-meter reach that has an integrated sensing and computing system.

“GITAI has been concentrating on teleoperations to demonstrate the dexterity of our robot, but now it’s time to show our capabilities to do the same this time with autonomy,” said CEO Sho Nakanose. “In an environment with minimum communication latency, it would be preferable to operate a robot more with teleoperations to enhance the capability of the robot, since with the current technology level of AI, what a robot can do autonomously is very limited. However, in an environment where the latency becomes noticeable, it would become more efficient to have a mixture of autonomy and teleoperations depending on the application. Eventually, in an ideal world, a robot will operate almost fully autonomously with minimum human cognizance.”

The S1 will make its home on Nanoracks’ pressurized airlock-extension module called Bishop, which is set for a November launch on SpaceX CRS-21. Next year, S1 will be launched and installed by a NASA astronaut, ensuring it has access to a task board and assembly area. Once installed, the robot will prove its ability for space work.

To determine that, two main experiments will be conducted. The first one is focused on intra-vehicular activity, such as the flipping of switches, turning knobs, managing cables, panel assembly, and other tasks human crews perform. The second is in-space assembly, which focuses on the robot’s ability to assemble structures and panels. The tasks will be conducted autonomously with some teleoperations.

A GITAI robot performs work during a ground experiment inside the Nanoracks Bishop airlock. (Image courtesy of GITAI.)
A GITAI robot performs work during a ground experiment inside the Nanoracks Bishop airlock. (Image courtesy of GITAI.)

Along with proving its worth, the demonstration will also assist S1 in acquiring the skills necessary for other robots to work aboard the ISS. Its success would mean continued experiments, with the aim of having fully autonomous robots conduct actual missions.

“In today’s booming space industry, there is a growing demand for versatile tasks to be conducted in space, but in a more reasonable and non-life-threatening manner,” Nakanose said. “With the success of this technical demonstration, GITAI will be able to provide a significantly cheaper and safer means of conducting various tasks in space, which will bring about a true dawn of the space commercialization age.”


Interested in how robotic innovations are impacting other industries? Check out Boston Dynamics Is Bringing Its Legged Robots to Hospitals and Robots May Be Key to Future Deepsea Mining.

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