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Future Robotic Arms Won’t Need to be Heated, Thanks to COLDArm

(Pasadena, California – April 23, 2021)

Space is an unforgiving place, not only for humans but for robots too. At extremely low temperatures, many robotic systems simply can’t function and could experience permanent damage. Right now, the typical minimum operating temperature for robotics is -55°C, but our team at Motiv is working closely with JPL to try and change that with the COLDArm.

A New Type of Robot
There is a reason why this hasn’t been done before. It’s hard. Materials experience thermal expansion and contraction at different rates. Additionally, robotics require lubrication, and most lubricants become too viscous at lower temperatures. Electronics are another area of concern; at extremely low temperatures, they can become unreliable.

The Cold Operable Lunar Deployable Arm (COLDArm) will address these problems through innovative ideas and designs. JPL is researching materials that eliminate the need for lubrication at extreme temperatures. At Motiv, we will contribute our cold-capable electronics developed through NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. By working closely with our partners at JPL, we’re working to create something the extreme-cold capable robotic arm of the future.

Ultimately, future NASA moon missions will be the major testing ground for the COLDArm.

What Does This Mean for the Future?
When launching into space, reducing mass is a critical goal. Every ounce has a cost. By eliminating the need to use power to heat the system, you not only save on mass at launch, you reduce power requirements during operation, and can save both mass and power for other important components.

If we can get past the traditional minimum operating temperature of today’s space-capable robotics, we can start exploring places like the dark side of the moon, asteroids or comets, Europa, or other moons of Jupiter or Saturn. At Motiv, we envision this technology moving beyond the COLDArm — possibly helping power a Martian rover through a Martian night, or a robot that lays the groundwork for human exploration or even habitation. The future of the COLDArm is exciting.

For us, the COLDArm represents a chance to combine our expertise with our partners at JPL and have a meaningful impact on the future of space exploration.

Learn how the COLDArm is a collaborative effort between NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Motiv.

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