Eleven years ago this week (or very nearly), the Spirit rover was noodling around in Gusev Crater on Mars when it drove over a thin hard crust of soil and broke through into a layer of soft sand underneath. The rover was already a little bit hobbled (understandable, since Spirit was something like 2,000 days into what was originally planned as a 90-day mission), and after months of trying, it became clear that Spirit wasn’t likely to move again. Unable to reach a position where its solar panels could be tilted toward the sun, Spirit froze to death during the Martian winter.
Larger rovers like Curiositydon’t have to worry about solar power, but getting stuck in soft surfaces is still a concern, since the options for getting a rover unstuck are limited—all you’ve really got to work with is the rover’s own mobility system.
NASA’s Astrobee robots have come a long, long way since we first met them at NASA Ames back in 2017. In fact, they’ve made it all the way to the International Space Station: Bumble, Honey, and Queen Bee are up there right now. While Honey and Queen Bee are still packed away in a case (and quite unhappy about it, I would imagine), Bumble has been buzzing around, getting used to its new home. To be ready to fly solo, all Bumble needed was some astronaut-assisted mapping of its environment, and last month, the little robotic cube finally embarked on its first fully autonomous ISS adventure.
With that in mind, we were caught by surprise when over the last several months, Jacobs, a Dallas-based engineering company that appears to provide a wide variety of technical services to anyone who wants them, has posted several open jobs in need of roboticists in the Houston, Texas, area who are interested in working with NASA on “the next generation of humanoid robot.”
Skybot F-850 will spend a week on the ISS charming astronauts with its sense of humor
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