Eurobot – Astronaut’s Space Friend

Engineers from the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) have recently completed the first set of trials of a sophisticated machine capable of operating in space, known as the Eurobot. The Eurobot, which has been under development since 2003, is intended to take over some of the tasks currently carried out by astronauts, such as spacewalks, and is planned to join human expeditions to the Moon and Mars.

Carrying out any initial preparatory work in space, such as transferring tools and equipment, takes a long time and is considered to be extremely difficult due to the harsh conditions in outer space. These tasks should now be handeled by the Eurobot, along with some post extravehicular activity (EVA), cleanup, and damage and repair inspection. Remotely controlled by an operator situated inside the International Space Station (ISS), Eurobot will be able to multi-task, serving as an additional set of hands and eyes for the spacewalkers. Once the astronauts are safely inside the station, Eurobot will clear away the tools and equipment.

The version of Eurobot used in the recent trials is an early prototype called the Weightless Environmental Test (WET) Model, and was tested in a special water tank in which the microgravity conditions found in outer space were simulated. The WET Model is similar in size and configuration to the planned Flight Model. It has three identical arms, each with 7 joints, similar in their length and strength to those of a human, but much more maneuverable and versatile. In addition, each arm is equipped with a camera and an end-effector, which acts as a hand.

In order to verify the operational concept for Eurobot, it was necessary to test the robots ability to move and manipulate objects, its multi-arm control and coordination, and visual recognition of obscured targets. To complete the tests, astronaut Jean-Francois Clervoy joined the Eurobot in the EAC pool to demonstrate the interaction between astronaut and robot.

TFOT recently covered another important advance in robotic technology achieved by the British company Shadow Robot. The company created a robotic imitation of a human hand with 24 different movements with functional capabilities that are almost identical to a real flesh and blood hand. The new hand is being tested for NASA’s Robonaut Project, which aims to create a robot with human-like capabilities.

More information on the Eurobot’s trials can be found on ESA’s website.

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