The Russian Soyuz spacecraft will be carrying a humanoid robot as the commander of the capsule when it leaves for the International Space Station.
The robot named Skybot F-850 is one of the latest models of FEDOR robots from Russia that have been developed to serve as a stand-in for humans for tasks such as driving cars. And not only it is going to enter into space; for the first time, a robot will be in the position of commanding a spacecraft – Soyuz. It will be monitoring spacecraft conditions during the uncrewed flight as it leaves the atmosphere and enters the land of zero gravity.
The development of FEDOR robots started in 2014. This Skybot F-850 is made from materials which can withstand the operating conditions in space. To make sure that the ISS is not damaged in any way, its actions have been intentionally limited and is controlled by special movement algorithms. With the help of AI, Skybot can function independently or it can also be controlled by an operator wearing a control suit.
Its hands are meticulously designed for handling human tools. It can unlock a door, turn a valve and use a fire extinguisher. There are also videos of it, driving cars and even using automatic pistols which prompted Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister to make it clear that the robot does not serve as a weapon, but uses artificial intelligence in assisting humans in several other places. It is the first Russian robot on ISS but robots developed by NASA and ESA are in use on the space station for a long time.
Robonaut 2, a NASA robot without legs worked with astronauts when it flew to the ISS in 2011 and worked till 2014. It was brought back to earth as it developed problems after that. CIMON, ESA’s social robot is on the ISS since 2018. It can recognize faces, capture images and assist astronauts in communicating with Watson, IBM’s NLP computer on Earth.
The most advanced robots have been from the Astrobee project of NASA. They will take over from the SPHERES satellites, which served 10 years as an experimental hardware platform.
The Astrobees are more advanced than SPHERES. They will be serving as payload carriers and gradually take over regular tasks in ISS such as equipment inventory and instrument surveys. Astrobee’s project manager, Maria Bualat said that in a crewed spaceflight, crew time is very precious. Assistant robots will be performing the repetitive and dangerous tasks which the crew has to perform now. Development work for robots to operate in space itself is also in progress. These robots can perform works such as repairing external leaks so that astronauts do not have to perform an extravehicular activity.