Robotic Astrobees to head to ISS to lend a hand

NASA has been working on robots to help astronauts on the ISS so that they have more time to spend on science rather than routine maintenance tasks. NASA has announced that it has a trio of robotic "bees" that are set to join the astronauts on the ISS. These bots look nothing like their namesake.

They are floating cubes that look similar with different color panels front and back. The robotic helpers were developed at the Ames Research Center in California, and the official name is Astrobee robots. NASA says that the bots will stay "busy as a bee" flying around teh ISS and helping with routine maintenance and inventory tracking.

The bots are also designed to help researchers on the ground experiment with tasks like human-robot interaction in space and to test new technologies. The bots were tested in a special lab at the Ames Research Center where a mockup of the space station's interior was built.

Propulsion for the bots is via fans, and the location of those fans allows the bot to move in any direction and turn on any axis. NASA fitted the bots with cameras and sensors for navigation inside the space station and obstacle avoidance. Each Astrobee has a robotic arm that can be attached for handling cargo and running experiments.

The bots are powered by electricity, and when power gets low, the bot will move autonomously to a dock where it can charge. Two modes of operation are supported, the bots can move autonomously or can be remotely controlled by astronauts. NASA says Astrobee robots build on the success of SPHERES robots that arrived at the ISS in 2006. NASA intends to launch the Astrobees to the ISS this month with the liftoff happening at the Wallops Flight Facility.