Robots Tackle Tough Environments

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How Unmanned Systems Help Humans

Long before cartoon Rosie the robotic housekeeper was tidying up for the Jetson family in the SkyPad apartments, people dreamed of a world where robots lived alongside humans as workers, sidekicks and friends.

“As a species, humans have always had an interest in projecting ourselves into distant places. We started with voice – that was the telephone. Next were images, better known as the television. And robotics is the next step. It’s the projection of action at a distance. It’s about having an effect on a distant location without actually being present there,” says Robbie Mandelbaum, robotics expert and chief technology officer for Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Laboratories.

Today, humans most often envision a future where robots work collaboratively with people. Tasks best suited for robots largely fall into three categories: dirty, dull or dangerous. These classifications, known commonly as the “Three D’s,” represent how robotic systems might support humans in any number of tasks – including disaster response, transportation and exploration.

On the Front Lines of Disaster
“We’re trying to build robots that go where it is too hard for people to go and do what is too hard for people to do, simply because the environment is too hostile,” said Gill Pratt, DARPA program manager, at a recent press conference on the DARPA Robotics Challenge.

The Lockheed Martin team, along with other Challenge finalists, is exploring how robots can serve as first responders in disaster relief efforts. Using an Atlas humanoid robot built by Boston Dynamics, the team is programming the platform to perform a number of tasks including walking in various terrain, turning valves and driving.

“The key to the Lockheed Martin entry is to create a collaboration between the robot and the human operator,” says Todd Danko, program manager for Lockheed Martin’s entry in the DARPA Robotics Challenge. “It’s not full autonomy, but it’s also not teleoperated. There are certain things that the robot can do that the operator could never do on their own.”

On Dec. 20-21, the Lockheed Martin-programmed robot will face off against a host of different robots and teams in the live competition in Homestead, Fla.

Beyond the challenge, the team at the Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Laboratories is focusing on developing autonomous systems with human operators across many platforms and domains. Ultimately, their research is designed to allow humans to be more efficient and effective in environments that are difficult or too dangerous to access today.

DARPA Robotics Challenge

As part of the DARPA Robotics Challenge, Lockheed Martin developing autonomous systems that work together with human operators.

Going Where People Can’t
While humans travel beyond Earth’s atmosphere, exploring the deepest corners of the solar system remains a job for robotic systems.  These space exploration vehicles, thousands of miles from Earth, must operate for years without physical human intervention.

On Nov. 18, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission launched into space, heading to Mars on a robotic exploration mission. MAVEN, built by Lockheed Martin, is scheduled to arrive at Mars in September 2014. After inserting itself into orbit at Mars, the spacecraft will spend a year exploring the planet’s upper atmosphere.

“Mars is a complicated system, just as complicated as the Earth in its own way," said Bruce Jakosky, NASA’s MAVEN principal investigator at the University of Colorado Boulder. "You can't hope, with a single spacecraft, to study all aspects and to learn everything there is to know about it. With MAVEN, we're exploring the single biggest unexplored piece of Mars so far."

The entire MAVEN mission, like all robotic space exploration operations, is performed without the physical intervention of humans. While people on-the-ground will monitor and operate the spacecraft, the space vehicles must be built to run completely independent of human teams.

In addition to MAVEN, Lockheed Martin has pioneered systems that launch sea-based ballistic missiles, conduct space-based surveillance and explore every planet in the solar system – all using advanced autonomy to help humans complete their missions.

December 2, 2013

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highlights
  • Tasks best suited for robots largely fall into three categories: dirty, dull or dangerous. These classifications, known commonly as the “Three D’s,” represent how robotic systems might support humans in any number of tasks.
  • Our research is designed to allow humans to be more efficient and effective in environments that are difficult or too dangerous to access today.
  • While humans travel beyond Earth’s atmosphere, exploring the deepest corners of the solar system remains a job for robotic systems.  These space exploration vehicles, thousands of miles from Earth, must operate for years without physical human intervention.

Speaking of the Future: Robotics


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The MAVEN spacecraft is moved into the Thermal Vacuum Chamber at Lockheed Martin’s facility near Denver, Colo. The spacecraft spent 19 days cycling through the temperature swings and vacuum it will experience during its mission to explore Mars' upper atmosphere.


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