Posted by: robotnews | April 2, 2007

Let the robots do the repair…

As astronauts prepare themselves to make repairs in space to the underbelly of the space shuttle, engineers led by Northrop Grumman has engaged in developing an Autonomous Walking Inspection and Maintenance Robot (AWIMR) for NASA. AWIMR might look like something out of the War of the Worlds (Steven Spielberg’s film starring Tom Cruise in case you guys forget), but this six legged arthropod robot is capable of autonomously navigating across truss structures and clinging to the outside or underbelly of the spacecraft to perform maintenance. Putting AWIMR in space to perform the routine maintenance implies more safety and scientific efficiency for the astronauts.

Though still in its development phase, AWIMR is projected to weigh approximately 20kg and measure about 1m across including its legs. Its “brain” is encapsulated in a central body with diameter of only 30cm, made of aluminum frame and plastic sheets.

Using the cameras and other sensors, on both its body and belly, AWIMR can walk across the surface and perform inspection. By measuring the transfer function between its feet as it advances, AWMIR is able to determine if subsurface corrosion of holes from micro meteorites exist. For repair, AWMIR would wield the electron beam welding tool used currently by the astronauts.

Control of AWIMR can also be made from inside the space shuttles using wireless links such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. With AWIMR, astronauts no longer need to expose themselves to the risk of micro meteoroids or solar radiation that can happen anytime.



Thng Kang Liang




  1. Lin Changjie U036185J

    Pretty good invention I would say. I always wonder how astronauts will feel if one day they were repairing the space shuttle and an accident causes them to float away into darkness…

    This robot will ensure the safety and health concerns of the astronauts in future. However, 20 kg sounds quite heavy to me. Different kinds of faults will also require different repair work to be performed. Will this robot be able to do that?

  2. Htun Lin Oo U059294W

    The idea of an automatic repairing robot is very attractive indeed. However, as space is a frontier where even milligram of payload matters, I believe that 20kg seems a bit too much. I have also read that NASA is developing robot astronauts to take over dangerous repair tasks that Changjie has mentioned. I would like to stack these autonomous robots up against the manual control robonauts and see who would be wroth flying up with all the other multi-million dollar equipment that usually occupy a spacecraft’s payload.

  3. Thng Kang Liang U036278W

    Hi, CHangjie, current version of AWIMR will only be able to perform repair for leaks caused by minor meteorites. However, there are other routine jobs that it can perform such as changing the antennas or performing scientic experiments in the place of the astronauts.

  4. Thng Kang Liang U036278W

    Oh Changjie, in addition to the leaks repair, the AWMIR is able to perform insulation repair as well.

  5. Thng Kang Liang U036278W

    Hi Htun Lin Oo, with the greipping and grasping tool available on the six legs of AWIMR, i believe that 20kg shouldn’t pose much of a problem. Anyway, this is still in the development stage and i believe JPL would have done enough testing before its release.

  6. Instead of just space mission, perhaps these robots can be deployed in the shipping and offshore industry where they can be used to repair the external hulls of those ships and rigs.

    Tng Thomson (U046231A)

  7. replacing humans to perform dangerous tasks for them is one of the main reasons why so much investment has gone into robotic research. the weight of the robot is an issue but with increasing research in material sciences I think it will not be long before smaller and lighter replicas of such robots can be formed.
    Nitin Batra

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