Autonomy and Robotics

Autonomy and robotics are currently considered to be the ideal solution for 3D (dull, difficult and dangerous) tasks in the space arena. Robots are already standing in for astronauts in time-consuming and repetitive tasks involving the manipulation of large masses with high precision. Robots could even allow the performance of activities not currently tackled by human beings (satellite maintenance, sample collection on planets, in-situ exploration). In this context autonomy, understood as the robot’s independence from human control, is a key characteristic of these systems. The human operator might be thousands of kilometers from the robotic system and the robot has to know how to react to a hostile or continually changing environment.

Working from its GNC space technologies, GMV is now transferring its knowhow and experience to the main areas of robotics (autonomy using artificial intelligence techniques such as planning, scheduling and multi-agents; path-planning and wheel control for navigation of rovers; manipulation and grasping through robotic arms; and environment perception using laser, stereovision and time-of-flight devices).

These are some of GMV’s current capabilities in the space robotics field:

  • Autonomy: Artificial Intelligence techniques such as planning, scheduling and multi-agents. Special focus on robotics systems and satellites requiring advanced cognitive features while at the same time generating bullet-proof software in an automated way (correct-by-construction paradigm).
  • GMV has also developed, within an ESA project, a general-purpose autonomous controller (GOAC) as a generic platform applicable to a wide range of ESA's space robotics applications. This space platform provides AI capabilities based on the interleaving execution-with-planning paradigm and constructed over the GenoM robotics framework enhanced with “correct-by-construction techniques".

    A subsequent activity (GOTCHA) involved optimization of the planning engine and functional layer to adapt the system to spaceflight software conditions where CPU and storage resources are limited.

  • Autonomous navigation: robotic navigation starts with environment perception through exteroceptive sensors (laser, stereovision, time-of-flight), environment modeling, localization using data fusion techniques from navigation sensors (IMU, gyroscope, inclinometers) and motion control through trajectory planning capabilities.
  • Manipulation by means of robotic arms: : control of robotic arms (KUKA, Mitsubishi) under real-time conditions, direct and inverse kinematics, motion planning, object grasping, visual serving and samples collection
  • Rover design and construction: GMV has designed and built diverse rovers as demonstration platforms or application of robotics technology:

    • MoonHound, in partnership with UPM-CAR (Centre for Automation and Robotics).
    • EGP-Rover, an autonomous 4-wheeled rover including stereovision-based navigation to provide a mobility platform to TAS-I for further hosting 2 robotic arms and demonstration of the "centaur" concept".
    • LRM rover, a 120-kg class rover for teleoperation purposes over a lunar scenario.
    • Exomars-like virtual rover using the 3DROV simulator as a goal-oriented autonomous robot.
    • Other robots for the terrestrial sector like FOXIRIS or MBZIRC.
  • Control Centers: As an extension of its Ground Segment capabilities, GMV also develops Robotic Control Center facilities such as the EXOMARS mission or the RAT (Rover Autonomy Test-Bed) project).

These are some of GMV’s current capabilities in the field of robotics applied to other sectors:

  • Robotics solutions for the oil and gas sector
    • FOXIRIS: Called Flipper-based Oil & Gas ATEX Intelligent Robotics System (FOXIRIS), the robot is based on GMV's latest developments in planetary surface exploration rovers. It is designed to tackle risks posed to workers in the oil and gas industry. The robot features navigation sensors and scientific instruments, which are designed to inspect pressure dials, valves and level gauges, detect hot surfaces, trigger alarms and identify gas leaks. The technology is being developed as part of Total's Autonomous Robot for Gas and Oil Sites (ARGOS) competition, intended to promote the creation of robots for hydrocarbon production sites in extreme conditions.
    • MBZIRC (Mohamed Bin Zayed International Robotics Challenge): is an international robotics competition that aims to demonstrate the current state-of-the-art of robotics and its many applications. GMV takes part in the competition within the AL-ROBOTICS team, together with Sevilla University and FADA-CATEC. Within the consortium GMV is leading Challenge 2, in which a rover with a robotic arm has to locate and reach a tool panel, grab the right wrench and tighten a valve stem. In Challenge 1 GMV is in charge of the relative tracking of a UAV with regard to a moving landing platform.

  • Robotics Laboratories
    • platform-art©: platform-art© is an Advanced Robotic Testbed for Orbital and Planetary Systems and Operations Testing before actual launch, mainly involving spacecrafts’ guidance, navigation and control systems.

    • SPoT (planet surface terrain): GMV’s head office hosts an exceptional 182 m2 area simulating a Martian landscape with red earth of similar grain size to Martian soil, rocks and a Martian panorama. This facility provides a large testing area and an outdoor environment to test different robotic applications under natural lighting conditions from an annex serving as a space control center. The soil characteristics are matched to some regions on Mars, and the rock colors, sizes and distribution are intended to match images from Martian missions.


Videos on the main robotics projects and events in which GMV is participating