back to article Boffins propose Slinky-like robot that can build stuff in space

Although large in-space construction projects are the stuff of science fiction, they will have to become science fact as missions grow ever more ambitious. Researchers at the University of Lincoln have decided to get a head start. Introducing the design for an "End-over-end Walking Robot" (or E-Walker) in the Frontiers in …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "the current and growing orbital ecosystem"

    Which has a good chance of being wiped out by the Kessler syndrome.

    As for the James Webb, it's in a Lagrange point, so largely immune to the issue and also, largely impossible to repair.

    But hey, yeah, one day we'll have to know how to build in space, so might as well start thinking about it.

  2. Mike 137 Silver badge

    a "seven degrees-of-freedom fully dexterous end-over-end walking robot,"

    But apart from moving, what can it actually do?

    The geometrry shown in the diagram suggests it doesn't have much force capability, if its motion is "end over end" it would stomp on any tools it holds (presumably at its ends) and how it's controlled seems entirely unspecified at present.

    Except for R2D2, the space droids in all the movies have separate legs (motive elements) and arms (manipulators) for a very good reason.

    1. DJO Silver badge

      Re: a "seven degrees-of-freedom fully dexterous end-over-end walking robot,"

      ...the space droids in all the movies have separate legs (motive elements) and arms (manipulators) for a very good reason...

      Until CGI came along the reason was that they had to put someone into the robot suit. After that it's sort of traditional.

      But there does seem to be a lot missing from the drawing - maybe a payload with manipulators is attached at the fulcrum - if they are just testing the locomotion bit there's no need for anything else yet.

      1. Mike 137 Silver badge

        Re: a "seven degrees-of-freedom fully dexterous end-over-end walking robot,"

        "Until CGI came along the reason was that they had to put someone into the robot suit"

        Another reason occurs to me -- if you're standing on your foot you can't use it to tighten a bolt a metre from the floor.

    2. slimshady76

      Re: a "seven degrees-of-freedom fully dexterous end-over-end walking robot,"

      That's actually a more autonomous version of the Canadarm, still in use at the ISS. I was expecting something much more complex, but this as I said it's just a Canadarm with the ability to grapple onto the stuff it's building.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: a "seven degrees-of-freedom fully dexterous end-over-end walking robot,"

        "but this as I said it's just a Canadarm with the ability to grapple onto the stuff it's building."

        I'd have to see a bunch of applications where it makes sense to be a believer. Something like a tower crane doesn't need to be a factor in how a building is designed. The crane is erected, possibly anchored along the side of a building as its constructed and then gets removed. A crawly robotic arm would take integration and accommodation into the design from the beginning. In space, there is no way to place something like a tower crane or bring in some other type of construction equipment so the Arm is not a bad choice even though care has to be taken to place enough grappling points that it can get anywhere it needs to.

        I'm in the camp of using or designing a piece of machinery to do a job rather than designing the job to fit a certain piece of machinery if there is a choice.

    3. iron Silver badge

      Re: a "seven degrees-of-freedom fully dexterous end-over-end walking robot,"

      R2 has various arms stowed within his body, his legs are not used as arms.

    4. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: a "seven degrees-of-freedom fully dexterous end-over-end walking robot,"

      > The geometrry shown in the diagram suggests it doesn't have much force capability

      Were you away from school when they taught static friction and the lack thereof in fluids and vacuum? Even a tiny force is sufficient to move a massive thing - it just takes longer.

      I hope you take this lesson to heart if you're ever by a canal and are thinking of leaning against a boat.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: a "seven degrees-of-freedom fully dexterous end-over-end walking robot,"

        Static friction in the school sense may not be an issue, but vacuum welding could be, as early satellite designers found out.

        1. Jon 37

          Re: a "seven degrees-of-freedom fully dexterous end-over-end walking robot,"

          That is avoided by careful material selection and/or surface treatments/coatings.

  3. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    Umm?

    If it's in space, and thus microgravity, how does walking help?

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Umm?

      Yes, it will be IN space, but in will be ON a spacecraft. Walking helps them just as it does a sailor who is AT sea but ON a ship.

    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Umm?

      "If it's in space, and thus microgravity, how does walking help?"

      It's called walking, but it's just a way of describing how the tool can reposition itself so it can be used in another location. It would be a waste to have loads of fixed tentacles all over, just in case. They'd be a horrible mass to boost and would get in the way more than they'd help.

  4. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Neal Stephenson's recent novel...

    ...titled Seveneves features articulated snake -like robots being used in Earth orbit in a near future scenario.

    I didn't read the notes of the novel. But I got the impression Mr Stephenson may have been building upon work being done by actual researchers today. Which is his job.

  5. Gene Cash Silver badge
    WTF?

    WTF? The ISS arm ALREADY DOES THIS

    There are Grapple Fixtures (aka LEE sockets) on the mobile transporter system and other strategic places, and the ISS CanadaArm can walk from place to place on the station.

    These standardized grapple fixtures are also on the Hubble Space Telescope and just about every satellite out there now.

    It also picks up another robot (DEXTRE) that has a ton of fine-control agile manipulators, to be used when something doesn't have a grapple fixture on it, and it can turn bolts and stuff to a limited degree.

  6. Ntangled Qbit

    Tech like this is going to be v.important sooner than you think

    If some climate tipping points occur sooner / hit harder than we've anticipated, people will quickly realise that a space parasol is the only quick fix that might save us. Cue lots of Lagrange point interest and robot/remote tools tech development like this - to build an earth sunshade in a kind of 'Armageddon'-style mission against time. Assuming we still have launch capabilities by then.

    Coolest robot idea, by the way, is the 'Christmas Bush' in James L.Forward's 'Flight of the Dragonfly' novel.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Tech like this is going to be v.important sooner than you think

      I haven't read the novel, but if the "Christmas Bush" is a conventional "bush robot", then the idea goes back to Moravec's 1988 book.

  7. AdmFubar

    could be more like this... NSFW... or maybe anywhere else//

    https://yewtu.be/watch?v=r248DPAlavQ

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      "https://yewtu.be/watch?v=r248DPAlavQ"

      A full URL is more polite.

  8. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    walking compass?

    Well, it improves on Donne's version of the technology, if not on the description thereof.

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