How do robots affect the earth?

11.12.2020 14:30

Artificial intelligence makes it possible: Robots that assemble satellites in space

Johanna Häs Communications
FZI Research Center for Computer Science

Whether in the smart home, with voice assistants, in navigation systems - artificial intelligence (AI) has long been part of our everyday life. In contrast, it is hardly used in space travel. The reason: The requirements for reliability and security are particularly high here and AI has not yet met them. The potential is huge: With AI, robots could, for example, assemble satellites in space - which is significantly more cost-effective than assembling them on earth. The FZI Research Center for Computer Science would therefore like to use the VeriKI project together with the University of Würzburg and BSSE System & Software Engineering to make artificial intelligence safely usable for space applications.

Karlsruhe, December 11th, 2020 - Applications in space travel must be robust and safe. To ensure that this applies to software, it must be verified, i.e. its correctness confirmed. There are already common methods of verification, but they are unsuitable for artificial intelligence. "That would be far too expensive and time-consuming," explains Dr.-Ing. Arne Rönnau, Head of Department at the FZI Research Center for Computer Science. VeriKI is therefore researching an alternative certification concept, which will be tested on the basis of two use cases. "If we succeed in developing a suitable concept, we will use it to dissolve a major barrier to the use of AI in space travel," says Rönnau. The open source Robot Operating System ROS 2 is used as the technological basis for the project. The framework consists of a number of software libraries as well as open source tools and covers many functions that are important for the VeriKI project. "Just like KI, ROS 2 has already proven itself on earth," explains Rönnau. "Now we want to transfer the potential to space."

Application-oriented research with an application from space travel

In the VeriKI project, the FZI and the University of Würzburg are each responsible for one use case. With the application scenario, which is the responsibility of the FZI, the research group wants to enable robots to assemble satellites in space. Transporting a large, already assembled satellite into space is usually extremely time-consuming and expensive. Therefore, the possibility of sending it into space in individual parts and having a robot assemble it on site is very attractive. However, assembly is complex: “Because of the delayed communication, it would take a long time to control the robot from Earth. That is practically impossible to implement, ”says Rönnau. “The robot must therefore assemble the satellite independently and be equipped with artificial intelligence for this. And we would like to verify this AI in our use case with VeriKI. "
The application for which the University of Würzburg is responsible deals with the verified use of artificial intelligence for position controllers. Satellites need these in order to be stable and safe to fly in Earth's orbit. With the help of small control nozzles, position controllers can regulate the position of satellites. Setting a position controller is usually very time-consuming, but with the help of artificial intelligence, the effort should be reduced. In the future it should be possible for the position controller to adapt itself intelligently in space. "In this case, it is particularly important that the AI ​​is verified and does not make any mistakes," explains Rönnau. “A faulty attitude control can lead to the satellite crashing. That happened, for example, with NASA's Mars Polar Lander spacecraft in the 1990s. "

The concept for verifying the artificial intelligence used is primarily developed by the company BSSE System & Software Engineering. It is important to identify which parts of the software cannot be easily verified with the previous methods. New procedures are to be investigated for these parts and, if necessary, safeguards are to be developed. “The verification of artificial intelligence processes is a current research topic worldwide - but it is currently focused on image recognition systems. So in the project we have to find approaches that are suitable for robotics and position control, ”explains Dr. Ralf Gerlich from BSSE. The FZI and the University of Würzburg support BSSE in developing the concept.

In the past, many aerospace developments have found their way into industry and even into our everyday lives. The digital camera is a good example of such a spin-off technology. The aim of the VeriKI research project is a spin-in in which Artificial Intelligence and ROS 2 are successful technologies that find their way from Earth into space.

about the project

The VeriKI project is funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy with around 943,000 euros over two years. The project started on September 1st, 2020. The space management of the German Aerospace Center e. V. (DLR). the organization and administration of the funding.

About the FZI Research Center for Computer Science

The FZI Research Center for Computer Science, with its headquarters in Karlsruhe and a branch in Berlin, is a non-profit organization for computer science application research and technology transfer. It brings the latest scientific findings in information technology to companies and public institutions and qualifies young people for an academic and economic career or the leap into self-employment. Supervised by professors from various faculties, the research groups at the FZI develop interdisciplinary concepts, software, hardware and system solutions for their clients and implement the solutions found as prototypes. With the FZI House of Living Labs, a unique research environment is available for application research. The FZI is an innovation partner of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT).

additional Information

Johanna Häs, Communications
FZI Research Center for Computer Science
Haid-und-Neu-Str. 10-14, 76131 Karlsruhe
Phone: +49 721 9654-904
Email: [email protected]

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