Motiv Space Systems is bringing space-grade robotics to Earth-bound industry. The company has built a number of innovative robots which are being tested at various companies and the robotic arm it supplied to NASA’s Mars project (main illustration) is also available to the market.
In an exclusive interview with Robotics and Automation News, Chris Thayer, CEO of Motiv, says the arm, in particular, has features that are essential in space but would also be applicable on Earth. (See video below.)
“Our robots are lighter weight than say a factory floor robotic arm,” says Thayer.
“But it’s things like the radiation environment in space that you may be going into, or the temperature environment that you’re going into, and certainly you’re in a vacuum.
“All those things play a huge role in your ability to deploy typical technologies into this space, and we have to select our electronics for survivability in extremely cold temperatures to extremely hot.
“Also, the lubricants that we have to use have to operate in a vacuum and through a wide range of temperatures without outgassing.
“So there are a number of things that are both subtle and large to consider.”
Motiv’s robotic arm was launched on a rocket at the end of July and is currently on its way to Mars, a journey that will take another eight months.
The rigors of the red planet will require the robot to be tough.
Thayer says: “The materials themselves for space robots are typically more scrutinized than you may get in the ground application for sure, but by and large the arm is largely an aluminum arm.
“We do have special coatings on the arm and as well as what’s called thermal blankets for thermal management on orbit. It gets extremely hot and extremely cold when you’re facing the sun or when you’re in permanent shadow, so you have to be able to accommodate that with this type of arm for that application.
“One of the things we really strive for is the modularity the scalability.
“We also try to have kind of industry-leading costs and lead times but also it’s just the value proposition for the whole system we can essentially have the same design for a lab or commercial grade arm all the way to a high reliability geosynchronous orbit arm for 15 years on orbit so that means that your entire life cycle the product life cycle from.”
Motiv partners with leading industrial companies in the aerospace and automotive sectors. One of those companies is Toyota. The automotive giant is testing Motiv’s wheeled robot, which looks like it is built from six robotic arms.
Thayer talks about other projects Motiv is involved in, such as 3D printing in space and a satellite servicing project.