NASA’s Shuttle era may be over but its robotic era is in full swing. With robots having long performed the bulk of our exploration across the Solar System, on the surface of Mars, and now assisting astronauts in low-Earth orbit, we’re now also on the verge of having robots doing work for us on the Moon, on asteroids, and even augmenting natural human capabilities to levels otherwise unattainable – especially in the alien environments found outside of Earth.
“This is probably one of the most exciting times to be working at NASA,” said Terry Fong, director of the Intelligent Robotics Group at Ames Research Center. “Regardless of where NASA goes, robots are going to be there. If humans go back to the Moon, or to an asteroid, or Mars, robots are going with them.”
And with NASA partnering with industry leaders and the next generation of robotic specialists in schools around the country, the technological advancements made in the field won’t only be destined for space; they’ll be used right here on Earth too. (In fact many already are.)
Case in point: QC Bot. Produced by Vecna Technologies in Cambridge Mass., QC Bot was developed in part by Daniel Theobald, who as a grad student in the 90s worked on robotic arm technology at MIT’s Artificial Intelligence lab. Funded by JPL, the work done at the lab would later evolve into the components found on the Curiosity rover, now over a year and a half on Mars.
Today QC Bots can be used in hospitals and manufacturing facilities to transport items and packages on demand, from medications to patient meals to production tools and materials, increasing efficiency while reducing human error.
And while it may look quite different from Opportunity, Curiosity, or any future robot that may one day work on Mars or the Moon, the knowledge and technology required to make QC Bot (and the aforementioned rovers) a reality will be used and built upon in many applications far into the future.
“By leveraging partnerships with other parts of NASA, as well as with other government agencies, industry, and academia, NASA is playing a key role in advancing our use of robotic technologies – technologies that drive exploration.”
— Dr. Michael J. Gazarik, Associate Administrator, NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate
Without people trained and specializing in the development of robotic technologies, both for space exploration and the improvement of human life on Earth, our next giant leaps into the Universe won’t be possible. Learn more in the latest edition of NASA Technology Innovation here.