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How Motiv Brought Space-Based Robotics Down To Earth

(Pasadena, California – June 7, 2021)

Across four parts, this blog series will look at the history of Motiv Space Systems and its contributions to field of space robotics. In this first part, we look at how space-based robotics were applied to the creation of a robot built for use on Earth.

In 2015, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) developed RoboSimian, a free-standing robot designed for mobility in hazardous locations and emergency response operations, for the DARPA Robotics Challenge. With four limbs to traverse uneven terrain, clear away obstacles in its path, and perform tasks of varying dexterity, RoboSimian was built to deliver robotic utility to rescue, disaster relief, and other applications with the potential for danger or toxicity.


From RoboSimian to RoboMantis

Motiv Robotics, a subsidiary of Motiv Space Systems, was established in 2015, when Motiv founders Chris Thayer, Brett Lindenfeld, and Tom McCarthy decided to apply their research and developments in space robotics to robots meant for earthbound operation.

Motiv Robotics builds mobile robots for use in hazardous environments and areas otherwise inaccessible to human responders. While Motiv Space Systems keeps its focus on space robotics, Motiv Robotics applies the engineering of space-based robotics to terrestrial emergency-response equipment. Upon licensing RoboSimian from JPL for manufacture and sale, Motiv Robotics set out to evolve its design. The result? RoboMantis.

Motiv’s engineers designed RoboMantis to go where humans couldn’t, to perform important, often life-saving tasks in hazardous or hard-to-reach areas. As a hybrid mobility system capable of semi-autonomous task execution, RoboMantis has four wheeled legs for both walking and driving, and can be equipped with one or two robotic arms.

Hand-like manipulators mounted to the arms provide dexterity and gripping strength for RoboMantis to complete a range of tasks. CamHand grippers have scissoring fingers that allow the robot to carry heavy loads, perform precise movements, and even climb a ladder.


Capabilities of RoboMantis

With its arms outstretched, RoboMantis is taller than a human. As the first responder to reach a remote or hazardous site, RoboMantis is operated through encrypted wireless communication. An adaptive robotic control toolkit enables supervised autonomy.

RoboMantis was built to perform tasks on a human scale, with the strength and precision of a robot. As a general-purpose mobile robot, RoboMantis can stand in for a human worker at a hazardous location, to complete cleaning, maintenance, repair, and other types of typically manual tasks.


Advanced Robotics For Hazardous Environments

As an emergency responder, RoboMantis can be configured for operation at sites with considerable human safety risks. Environments where RoboMantis demonstrates utility include power and chemical plants, oil fields, subterranean settings, and remote areas of rugged terrain.

Flexible mobility, advanced dexterity, precise manipulation, coordinated motion control –RoboMantis was built to move. The modular design makes its hybrid system adaptable to academic research, agricultural science, industrial inspection, mining, construction, and defense applications.


The Future Of Robotic Engineering

With the knowledge gained from Motiv’s work in space robotics, Motiv Robotics will continue to develop earthbound robots, modeling features of their on-orbit counterparts. RoboMantis was created to assist humans whose work is done in hazardous environments. Motiv’s space-capable robots and robotic arms are helping NASA explore other worlds. Advancements in space robotics can only lead to new horizons for robotic utility on Earth. Learn more about RoboMantis, advanced robotics for modern ground missions.

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