NASA's ISAAC software turns robots aboard the ISS into caretakers

NASA is talking about software that it uses in autonomous robots that operate inside ISS. The software is called ISAAC, which stands for Integrated System for Autonomous and Adaptive Caretaking. The software was integrated into Bumble, one of the Astrobee robots currently aboard the ISS. Bumble and its software were used to investigate a simulated anomaly aboard the station.

The simulation had Bumble responding to life-support systems aboard the space station that detected a simulated high concentration of carbon dioxide. Excess carbon oxide in the atmosphere inside the station could be deadly to crewmembers living there. During the simulation, Bumble was able to deftly navigate the station to find the location designated as a vent for the cabin air circulation system.

Once at the correct location, the robot used computer vision to detect a foreign object blocking the vent. For this simulation, the foreign object was a printed image of a sock. Once Bumble identified the foreign object, it was able to call for a crewmember to help remove the object. However, the robot's task wasn't as easy as simple as floating its way to the location of the vent.

There were hazards in its path, including cables it bumped into that it had to untangle from, and it had to deal with simulated communication interruptions. Ultimately, Bumble and its ISAAC software completed mission objectives with little help from operators on the ground.

While ISAAC worked well in its simulated mission utilizing a robot, the long-term vision of software managers at NASA is to transform an entire spacecraft into an autonomous robotic system. This latest demo was the final milestone for ISAAC's first testing phase, with additional testing in the following future. Ultimately, the goal is to allow the technology to be used on future deep-space missions. The second phase of testing for ISAAC aboard the ISS focuses on managing multiple robots transporting cargo between an uncrewed space station and an uncrewed cargo spacecraft.