The Future of Robotics

August 8, 2022
Engineers Meeting in Robotic Research Laboratory

This is the year George Jetson was born. From flat-screen TVs to smartwatches to video phones, the Jetsons predicted many of the inventions we live with today. While we might still be missing flying cars, one thing is for sure. Robotics are the way of the future, and the technology of the future is quickly becoming the technology of today.

Robotics covers critical technology areas like artificial intelligence, machine learning, the Internet of Things (IoT), autonomous functions, SmallSat robotics, and cobots. Looking past the potential for improving civilian life with modern day version of the Jetson’s maid Rosie (YellRobot actually sells one), all of these fields have diverse uses in the military world.

There are a wide range of applications that fall under the umbrella term ‘robotics’, and the military is working on putting them into use already. There is a great deal of utility in robotics that can carry out rescue and cargo missions in what is referred to as dumb, dirty, and dangerous situations. A dumb mission is tedious or tiresome, a dirty mission is contaminated or poses a threat of disease, and a dangerous mission is occurring on contested ground or under fire.

The goal is to enhance existing capabilities while keeping troops safe, and defense-based robotics technology has made significant progress in recent years. Here’s how some of them are being used by the Warfighter now.

Applications in the Military Today

Centaur supports remote monitoring, debris removal, route clearance, casualty evacuation, inspection, and reconnaissance applications. With a built-in camera, the ability to climb over six-inch objects, and up a 30-degree incline, Centaur is helpful in clearing land mines and other explosives, and extremely useful in

MUTT, which stands for multi-utility tactical transport, follows soldiers carrying supplies and munition up to 1,200 lbs. That’s about as much as ten men can carry, so just one of these machines doubles the It has a 60-mile range on a single tank of gas.

SPOT, a walker robot based off the AT-AT from Star Wars, is mobile robot that navigates terrain with incredible mobility, with programmable autonomous mission capability.

RiSE is an insect like climbing robot, that was biologically inspired with six legs. This robot was designed to be able to climb vertical surfaces. This can help with search and rescue, reconnaissance, or surveillance.

SAFFiR (shipboard autonomous firefighting robot) the only one on this list to be a bi-pedal robot, SAFFiR is designed to help researchers evaluate the applications of unmanned systems in damage control and inspections aboard naval vessels, supporting the autonomy and unmanned systems focus area in the Navy’s Science and Technology Strategy. firefighting aboard ships, but also hazard removals and overall shipboard maintenance.

Gladiator was developed in order to support the United States Marine Corps Ship To Object Maneuver (STOM) missions through the use of a medium sized, robotic system to minimize risks and eliminate threats to Marines during conflict. The Gladiator can perform surveillance, reconnaissance, assault, and breaching missions.

As Bradley Bowman of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank, said in a Defense News article, the real question is whether the U.S. is building world-class capabilities faster than its .

Using OTAs to Bridge Innovation and National Security

Robotics has been a focus of the DoD for some years now, and NSTXL has contributed to bring U.S. capabilities up to speed.

A previously awarded opportunity to S2MARTS member Adelos, Inc. is the Autonomous Fiber Optic Sensor Network (A-FOSN) project. A-FOSN is a passive opto-acoustic fiber optics sensor system that measures the micro strain of sound waves on continuous wave laser light utilized in a buried fiber optic cable array for detecting intruders into U.S. Navy ports. The technical objective is to assess the capability of opto-acoustics sensing to continually detect light phase shift difference in fiber optics, with the ability through digital signal processing to detect, identify, classify, and locate surface and subsurface targets.

A more recent opportunity within the OTA ecosystem that is now under evaluation, was specifically focused on core robotics functionalities. The Innovate Beyond 5G opportunity looks to expand the emerging capability of 5G/IB5G networks to provide connectivity, with desired features for human-to-machine and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, and scaling to the Internet of Things (IoT), i.e., encompassing a significantly larger number of devices other than purely human consumers.

The Future

Much of the future of robotics lies in the space domain, and one of the most promising future applications includes SmallSats. Instead of dedicated launches of large science instruments, small science satellites could be piggybacked as secondary payloads. After deployment, the SmallSats will rendezvous. Miniature robot arms will deploy and perform docking to a second SmallSat, like robotic docking on the ISS or space shuttle. This docking method accommodates uncertainty in guidance, navigation, and control functions while reducing risk of spacecraft collision through increased separation distance. Docking is repeated until the cluster is completely formed, amplifying their capabilities. These clusters would be scalable in both the number and size of the cluster elements. The formation will be maintained without expending energy or fuel. This addresses technology development areas of creating large, scalable structures in space. An environment  where humans cannot live is the perfect place to use robots to our advantage.

NSTXL members like TransAstra are helping to bring robotics to space. Their Worker Bee™ provides low earth orbit logistics to smallsat and microsat classes.

The field of robotics has continued to expand rapidly, and prototypes will become increasingly essential as the industry continues to grow. Last year, a $379 million budget was requested for robotics. It is well known that time is of the essence when it comes to maintaining technology relevancy, and OTAs are a fast and efficient way to get prototypes on contract. NSTXL will do its part to bring the needed technology to the forefront.

About NSTXL 

NSTXL is focused on building a network of innovators and creators across the most sought-after emerging technology fields. Within the platform, NSTXL supports three OTA’s including the Strategic & Spectrum Missions Advanced Resilient Trusted Systems (S2MARTS), the Training and Readiness Accelerator (TReX), and the newly awarded Space Enterprise Consortium (SpEC).  Join the mission today.   

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