Could this robot be the first permanent ISS crew member?


The International Space Station (ISS) may soon have its first permanent resident: a humanoid robot created by researchers from the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) that is capable of passing along information from one team of astronauts to another.

The robot, which has been named Nao, was created by CNRS senior researcher Peter Ford Dominey and his colleagues, and has been given “an autobiographical memory” so that it can pass on information learned from one group of humans to another.

On the space station, it would use this ability to act as a liaison between different crews as they change every six months, sharing information obtained by the departing astronauts to their successors, Dominey’s team explained in a statement. They presented their findings last week at the 24th International Symposium on Robot and Human Interactive Communication in Japan.

Autobiographical memory, the researchers explained, includes only those events personally experienced by the robot, as well as the context in which they were experienced. It enables the unit to date and locate memories, and to determine who was present during said event.

Following successful simulations, Nao could be headed to space

In order for Nao to be able to understand cooperative behavior, and thus be able to culturally share its knowledge and experiences, it uses a system developed by Dominey and his fellow engineers. Using this system, a human agent can teach the robot new actions through physical demonstrations, visual imitations, or voice commands.

All of these actions are then combined into procedures and stored in Nao’s autobiographical memory, allowing it to reproduce them for other humans as needed. The CNRS team has tested their new system by simulating a scenario that could actually happen on the ISS: Nao helped a scientist fix a damaged electronic card, following his directions during the repair process.

Should the same event happen again, the researchers said, the memory of the event will enable the robot to use a video system to show a new member of the crew how to repair the card. Also, it could answer questions about the previous repair process and help with the new procedure. If another type of failure occurred, it could share its experiences with the original type of failure, while also record the steps required to fix the new issue for use by future crew members.

“These results demonstrate the feasibility of this system, and show that such humanoid robots represent a potential solution for the accumulation and transfer of knowledge,” the CNRS said Monday in a statement. They added that Dominey’s team is now hoping to test Nao “in the real conditions of space operations, with zero gravity.”


Feature Image: Inserm/Patrice Latron