Bumble Charges Up to Assist Astronauts on ISS

Just a quick update about the Astrobees. The first of them, Bumble, is charging up and has under gone its first hardware check. Honey, who launched with Bumble on the Northrop Grumman’s commercial resupply mission on April 17th, hopefully will be up and running soon as well.

Astronaut Anne McClain performs the first series of tests on Bumble.
Credit: NASA
Bumble at its charging station.
Credit: NASA

B.O.B. Lives! – Well not quite but getting there

I have been living under a rock. Somehow I missed the launch of what could be the closest thing to a long-standing image of what robotics should look like from my childhood.

At some point in my childhood, I sat down with my dad to watch the 1979 classic The Black Hole. Truthfully, most of the film is lost to time in my mind (meaning I really should sit down and re-watch it) but two floating robots forever caught my imagination: V.I.N.CENT and B.O.B.

They were what all space robots should look like. Small, compact, cute and most importantly they float. Turns out not only does NASA have floating robots on the International Space Station (ISS) called SPHERES that have been on the station since 2006, but NASA has just recently sent up the second generation of these robots named Astrobee. These second-generation bots will conduct research, be an extra set of eyes for ground control and assist with certain tasks.

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Image courtesy NASA

SPHERES got their start thanks to professor David W. Miller of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Space Systems Laboratory gave his students a challenge. He wanted them to build a space robot that was like the lightsaber training droid in Star Wars: A New Hope. The result was three satellites that tested formation flight and docking control algorithms. SPHERES also started the Zero Robotics competition that allowed students to have their code tested in space!

Astrobee robot family
Image courtesy NASA
NASA Astrobee space robot
Image courtesy NASA

The Astrobees will continue this tradition alongside assisting with tasking on the ISS, testing robotic components, trying out navigation algorithms, and just being plain awesome if you ask me. The three Astrobees (Honey, Bumble and Queen) all use fans to move them through zero gravity. With little to no weight restrictions on their lifting capabilities, because they don’t have to overcome the effects of gravity, these little robots pack quite the punch. I am very excited to see how they will change life on the ISS and am now thinking I need to get into robotics so I can maybe get my code tested on these inspiring robots.

Curious to learn more about them? Check out the NASA webpage or the code on GIThub.

-KMSB

Gears on the Brain

A couple of years ago I wrote about how failure is a learning opportunity. It is something I try to embrace as I learn new things and when I also fail to get things on the first go. Much like when I tried to fix the automatic mechanical pocket watch my partner got for me.

After it broke, she told me it was not all that expensive, which gave me the guilt-free pleasure of not only opening it up and poking around but also scratching a bucket list item off my list: learning about mechanical watches.

When the tools I had ordered arrived, I tore into the watch with delicate patience and glee. It was a marvel to take out the screws one by one, crown gear, balance wheel etc. I did my best to name and identify the parts, keeping them together as I had learned from various online videos.

The one thing I did not do was take pictures as I took the watch apart then cleaned the pieces. When it came time to put the whole thing back together I was left with a puzzle. It took me three days, but I was eventually able to piece it all back together between a combination of memory, logic and trial and error.

I was so excited to almost finish the project that I swapped in a right-hand screw for the left-hand screw that holds the crown gear. Then I lost the left-hand gear trying to put it in a right-hand threaded spot. I had sprung gears across the room several times during my tear down and put together, however this time I was not able to find it.

I eventually broke the right-hand screw out of the crown hear and decided to order a set of assorted screws for pocket watches. These came in a few months ago. I had been avoiding it in part because work was keeping me busy, but also I was still a little afraid of not being able to fix it.

With resigning from my work, I had some time between job hunting and writing to go get the screws and give it a go.  A couple of hours of tinkering and trying the various screws ended in me not getting any further ahead – none of them fit.

I am sad that I could not get the watch working again but am, as always, gleeful at the fun and learning I had during the process. Although I am not likely to get the watch fixed (a blog on repairing watches did warn me I was likely to break the first one I tried to fix) it has gotten my brain wondering about gears and gear ratios. I’m thinking I need to explore them further.

Stay tuned.

– KMSB