SpaceBok, a quadruped robot, uses nature’s tactics for space exploration. The robot isn’t graded for space yet but still serves as a hub for numerous experiments in regard to surface mobility. Just like any other robot designed for space, SpaceBok’s system is constantly updated as per the experiment’s requirements.

Now, you may ask, what makes SpaceBok so different from any other quadruped robots? Well, the obvious answer is a set of two top-notch features. SpaceBok is built light in weight and incorporates a kinematic chain for the robot’s legs. This enables the actuators to operate hand-in-hand for making the robot jump.

SpaceBok’s main movement is jumping which is why each of its legs possesses 2 degrees of freedom. Hip flexion and extension along with knee flexion and extension are possible due to the two degrees of freedom. Moving forward, let’s understand what exactly makes SpaceBok so space-worthy.

What makes SpaceBok suitable for space?

Since space environments are ridden with uncertainties, the highly resilient robots that work fine on earth might encounter certain problems. While wheeled robots have already been used in space, legged robots could be the next step in space exploration. SpaceBok is a quadruped robot that is mainly used for research on legged movements in space.

Its lightweight design, kinematic chain for legs, hip extension, and knee extension allow it to perform experiments on leg mobility in space. By performing tasks like jumping, wiggling, and other leg movements in space, it will be able to track the need for the use of legged mobile robotics in space exploration. The omission of excess weight and flexibility of the robot makes SpaceBok a suitable robot for space.

The Robotic Systems Lab at ETH Zurich published a research paper that showed the possibility of teaching SpaceBok to work well as a legged robot in low gravity environments. The paper shows the capability of SpaceBok to perform “cat-like jumping and landing” techniques while exhibiting wiggling actions.

Legs are ideal for movement in low gravity environments. Using wheels will be difficult due to the reduction in traction. Legs can also be used for jumping which will be effective when there are obstacles in place. While robots on earth can reorient themselves while performing jumping actions, robots in space pose a challenge.

Regardless, SpaceBok has mechanisms that tackle the control problem and effectively reorients itself. It can also perform flip-landing quite easily, which is harder to execute on a higher gravity like that of the earth.

SpaceBok and its features

Legged robots have been used in studies to master movement on complex terrains as a part of space exploration. SpaceBok is an advanced robot that has reinforced learning techniques for mobility in space through legs. While landings on asteroids have been rough and tumble due to gravity changes, SpaceBok, inspired by the jumping and landing of cats, has successfully taken inspiration from nature in its venture into space.

Here are a few topnotch features of SpaceBok that make it stand out:

  • The agility of the robot strengthens its mechanisms in adjusting rapidly to a new environment, thereby beginning to function without any haste. SpaceBok learns to perform a set of tasks based on locomotion using reinforced learning techniques.
  • The robot can make use of only its legs to track down pitch targets effectively. In its quadruped form, the robot learns to perform flips before landing, mimicking cat-like jumping techniques. The blindness of the robot does not cause any hindrance in locating and adapting to uneven terrain.
  • After the flip landing, SpaceBok can even jump back in the required direction. SpaceBok can be re-oriented to a 3D spectrum due to the functionality of two joints in every leg.
  • The extra joint in the robot makes movements quicker and smoother. Soft landings are a notable feature that is a resultant advantage of the extra joint. The advanced features of the robot provide the required mechanism for quick recovery in complex situations and problems.

SpaceBok can perform all these tasks on earth as well. It can perform tasks like jumping from one wall to another using the tracking ability in the legs. This proves the advancement in SpaceBok itself and how it can be an effective tool to explore celestial bodies in a low gravity environment.

Challenges faced while developing SpaceBok

Just like any other technological development, SpaceBok poses its own set of challenges in its pursuit of space exploration. A primary challenge that exists in space exploration as opposed to terrestrial locomotion is the long flight phase. On earth, the high gravitational force allows robots to balance themselves easily. They do not need to reorient themselves while jumping. In low gravity environments, the robots have to learn to balance themselves in the air.

Another challenge is the handling of changes in gravity. Gravitational changes pose problems in locomotion because the robots have to adjust and reorient themselves in the environment. While lower gravity becomes harder to achieve balanced mobility, higher gravity tends to make tasks like flipping harder. The entire process of adjusting to changing gravity which needs to be achieved in minimal time has been a challenge for SpaceBok.

Robots for space are designed based on nature’s maneuvers

When you take an in-depth peer into nature, you will witness a constantly functioning laboratory that has been working to develop its specimens. Over the years, nature has come up with solutions for problems that have helped immensely in the evolution of various species. The elegance in this act is a mere representation of the importance of perceiving nature in its entire shape and form.

Along with us, technology has also been evolving by taking inspiration from nature. While evolution resulted out of billions of years of problem-solving by nature, technology takes a significant leap with every problem it solves. As space exploration has had a momentous journey over the years, robots designed for space have been designed based on nature’s maneuvers.

The flapping-wing MAV is inspired by the flapping wings of bees and these robots usually work in groups mimicking the colonies of ants, bees, or termites. The Biomimetic Robot Snake is designed in the shape of a snake which gives it equal strength on land and in water. Similarly, Bat Bot is a robot that is inspired by bats. It’s been designed for constructing efficient and safe aerial robots while studying to acquire more insights on how bats fly.

Another bar was set when the Soft Burrowing Robot was introduced. Developers wanted to tap into the ground after successfully curating aerial and aqua robots. The burrowing robot is designed to be soft and quick with topnotch technology to minimally invasive its movement underground.

Final Thoughts

Many robots sent to space in the past have failed due to inconsistencies in their working and their mechanisms. While some failed to activate after landing, most failed during the landing itself. With SpaceBok, space exploration is seen to have a new ray of hope. Taking lessons from nature to traverse through a new territory is a mind-blowing venture that this robot will be making.

From smooth movement in rough terrains to jumping and flipping, this robot has been developed for a whole new experience of exploring outer space, awaiting marvels that are yet to be witnessed by the human species.