Drones have been around for a while, mostly being used in the military, but the technology has also been in the public’s hands. During this time, there has been a change in how drones are being used, from taking photos, filming old battlefields, to even filming fireworks. But they have never made it into space.
NASA conducted a drone challenge called “ZERO GEE Bee,” which was part of the fourth annual SpaceApps challenge 2015. The challenge invited hackers and engineers to design a drone that would be able to function in a zero gravity environment.
The winner of the drone challenge was the ArachnoBeeA project. “We took this challenge even further, designing a completely autonomous drone, aware of its location and surroundings, capable of navigating its way around the station, avoiding collision, locating particular objects, as well as astronauts, and keeping track of their movement, fine navigating and picking up objects, recharging, etc,” ArachnoBeeA said on it website.
SpaceApps Limassol 2015-nominated team #2—ArachnoBeeA:
They went on to say: “In solving these problems, we used already existing and proven technologies like RFID, quadcopter drone design, and off-the-shelf components, but we also used some of the cutting edge tech like RF-based indoor location systems, computer vision algorithms, etc.”
Without gravity to direct it, the “ArachnoBeeA” needs sensors placed in the Space Station.
When it gets near a sensor, it suddenly knows where it is, and can orient itself accordingly.
Since objects in space tend to remain in motion, as designed, the drone can use vacuums, small gripping hands, or its main claw, wrote Popular Science.
SpaceApps Limassol 2015—Team ArachnoBeeA:
Another problem is how to get the drone to stop moving. Anyone who has watched footage from space knows that if an object isn’t being controlled, and isn’t strapped down, it will float around aimlessly. That makes it difficult for a drone to slow down and pick up a tool to deliver to a busy astronaut.
But the team designed the ArachnoBeeA to have little limbs with “hands” it can use to grab and “dock” to different surfaces while it completes a needed task. It’s also equipped with small vacuums, so it can suck itself into a specific point, Motherboard wrote.
Even though ArachnoBeeA is still at a design point, with NASA choosing it as the “Best Mission Concept” award winner this year, it shows what type of technology the space agency is interested in. I would think that when we do send a manned mission to Mars, these kind of drones would be a real help.