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As we mentioned in the previous section, the Lunar Gateway will not be continuously crewed, and therefore it will have to depend on non-human helpers to ensure its upkeep, do maintenance of different experiments, perform and report on astronomical observations, and maintain a viable environment for the astronauts during their stay at the station.
These helpers are automated systems that we call robots. Let's explore a bit more about robotics and robots.
- Robotics is a branch of engineering that involves the conception, design, manufacture and operation of robots. The objective of the robotics field is to create intelligent machines that can assist humans in a variety of ways. source
Robotics, then, is what will help engineers design, create, and operate the robots that will support the Lunar Gateway. Robotics will also help us in the process of designing our robot to submit to the Lunar Gateway Challenge!
There are many different ways of defining and thinking about robots. We will focus on two definitions:
- 2.A robot is a collection of microcontrollers that we can code to help us accomplish a task or action using electrical components to perform jobs.
Unfortunately, the challenges and situations that the robots will face in the Lunar Gateway are too complex for a team of programmers to fully anticipate and code in advance.
What happens when an unexpected event happens? How can the robot make the right decisions to ensure the well-being of the station the astronauts and the mission?
That is where our second helper comes to the rescue. To provide the automated systems - the robots - with the capacity to learn and make decisions, we equip them with Artificial Intelligence - AI.
From 1981 to 2011 Canada provided the space program with a robot: the Canadarm. It evolved over the years, and in the process enabled the construction, manipulation, and deployment of objects in space.
There have been 3 different major versions, Canadarm, Canadarm2 and Canadarm3. For more information visit the following links:
Microcontrollers are essentially small computer that controls connected components. A microprocessor has:
- A Processor so it can read and respond to the instructions it's given.
- Memory to store instructions as well as any information it creates while running.
- Input/output capabilities to connect to electronic components, obtaining data from the environment and reacting to it.