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Artificial intelligence has entered the realm of space exploration. Robots may be replacing humans on space missions deemed too dangerous or remote and some may even assist humans. The world of science fiction is coming closer to real life.

Scientists at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom released a white paper, a “roadmap of space robotics.”

Professor Yang Gao, the paper’s lead author and director of the Surrey Technology for Autonomous Systems and Robotics Lab (STAR) says,

Since the 1990’s, a new generation of planetary exploration has travelled further into the solar system and is required to become increasingly more convincing as a human proxy in space. This will lead to the development of robotic explorers and assistants that can carry out such complex tasks that they could tangibly replace humans in space or assist astronauts on a mission.

Robotics is already being utilized on space missions. The Mar’s rover and the mechanical arms attached to the space shuttle are some examples.

The Mar's Rover, Proven Robotics Technology

The Mar’s Rover, Proven Robotics Technology

European Space Agency Astronaut Roberto Vittori, who launched the white paper, says,

Space robotics is central to the future of space exploration. The importance of this area of science cannot be understated, something I can personally attest to having been responsible for the space shuttle’s robotic arm in the installation of the six-ton cosmic ray detector to the International Space Station. This space robotics white paper will be instrumental in providing a clear vision as we continue to push new boundaries in both man and unmanned spaceflight.

Space robots offer versatility and a variety of capabilities. Robots can be equipped with 3D perception, the ability to climb, fly, sail, swim, navigate, dock spacecraft without human intervention and interact with humans. Autonomous robots can replicate insects, birds, animals and humans. They are basically general purpose machines capable of working in the harsh space environment by performing tasks like exploration, assembly, construction, maintenance and the like.

Robotics Technology in Action

Robotics Technology in Action

The robotic technology may also be beneficial on earth. In healthcare, robots are used in surgery and diagnostics and other applications. They may also be used in emergency services, the mining industry and the water industry.

Professor Gao says,

Increasingly, we are seeing non-space industries interested in applying our expertise to their own areas, such as the nuclear sector which also has to deal with a high radiation, hazardous environment.

We’ve now developing robotic vision based software for Sellafield which can help sort and segregate nuclear waster autonomously. Also, for the agricultural sector we’ve been asked to develop a small autonomous vehicle that can identify diseased crops, take high-resolution images and deploy a robotic arm to take samples, if required.