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Susan Helms working in space


Design a Robot Helper

A Collaborative Activity

The challenge is for you to work with other students to research and design a robot that will help the astronauts on the International Space Station. Scientists at NASA are working on such a robot. The key questions cover some of the issues the scientists are tackling. You can help them in their quest to build a robot helper! Your design may answer some or all of the questions below.

Key Questions

  1. What should your robot buddy look like?
    Should the robot look like a person? What should be the robot’s size and shape?
    Hint: Recent estimates show that it costs approximately $30,000 to launch 1 kg into orbit. Consider the limitations of space inside the ISS modules.
  2. How will it get around?
    How is motion in a microgravity environment different from motion on the surface of the earth? How will the robot propel itself and avoid things that get in its way? How will the robot stop? How will the robot change direction? How will the robot "see" where it’s going? Don't forget the safety of fellow astronauts.
  3. How will you talk to it?
    Astronauts will want to give voice commands to the robot as it floats by or waits patiently beside the astronaut. How easy is it for a machine to understand and obey spoken commands? What technology needs to be used for this to happen? What are the challenges with this technology? (Ask a team-mate to be the robot and literally obey your every command. Is it easy for your team-mate to understand precisely what you want?) How should the robot communicate with the astronauts?
  4. What could it do for you? What could it do for astronauts on the ISS?
    The Space Station is like a giant, sealed, soda can. For the astronauts to be safe, the temperature must be just right. There are different gases in the air we breathe. A small mistake in the air composition could be dangerous. Could a robot be used to measure air temperature? How will the robot know that the air composition is just right for the astronauts? What should the robot do if there is a problem with the temperature or air composition?
  5. How will you know your robot from the others?
    If there is more than one robot on the ISS, how will the astronauts know which one is their robot

Helpful Videos:

Liftoff to Learning: Let's Talk Robotics

Liftoff to Learning: Microgravity

Liftoff to Learning: Toys in Space 2

Links to useful information

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