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Q&A: SpaceBot, the All-Terrain Robot

Q&A: SpaceBot, the All-Terrain Robot

SpaceBot is a robot that looks like an insect. Its high degree of autonomy opens the door to multiple applications in space, especially on Mars. DirectIndustry e-magazine met with Arne ROENNAU, Manager of the Robotics Department at Forschungszentrum Informatik in Karlsruhe, which developed SpaceBot.  

DirectIndustry e-magazine: SpaceBot looks like a spider. Was that intentional?

Arne Roennau: It’s a bio-inspired robot. We drew inspiration from stink bugs to build a robust robot that can travel on all kinds of terrain. It can use its legs to grab objects and carry them. By using its camera to create an environment map of its surroundings, it can independently decide where to bring the objects.

DirectIndustry e-magazine: What makes it so autonomous?

Arne Roennau: The robot does everything by itself. You just give it a mission goal and it creates its tasks by itself—the time to the obstacles, time to the objects—and it carries them to the destination. A mission control system coordinates different autonomous tasks and establishes a goal requiring different steps. It can pick up cylindrical or square materials and can carry up to 1 kg.

DirectIndustry e-magazine: Why did you make a robot with legs and not a rover?

Arne Roennau: We have given the robot legs so it can move on very rough terrain with deep gullies and climb large obstacles. The robot will not roll over obstacles; it can just climb over them like the insects do.

DirectIndustry e-magazine: What other advantages does it have?

Arne Roennau: It can adapt its behavior to the terrain. If you want measurements, you can place sensors on the robot. It also has many legs so it can keep moving even if one is broken. It is also stable. It won’t fall, which is not the case with a rover.

DirectIndustry e-magazine: What kind of applications do you anticipate?

Arne Roennau: We targeted space applications, but also search and rescue. For example, after a natural disaster where you have collapsed buildings, it can access places too dangerous for people. It can climb over building debris like a rescue dog.

DirectIndustry e-magazine: Can you imagine applications in other sectors?

Arne Roennau: We’ve thought about mining, oil and gas. Our robot could travel inside mines or across oil fields because it is independent of roads and does not need specific infrastructure.

DirectIndustry e-magazine: Is it going to be sent to Mars?

Arne Roennau: I hope! But not this version. We are increasing the robot’s reliability to meet outer space requirements. And then it can maybe fly to Mars alongside Curiosity. A robot with real legs could have a scientific advantage. It could fly into craters or climb higher into the mountains. We also want it to cooperate with other robots like Curiosity. For example, we can imagine it picking up samples and taking them to Curiosity for examination.