NASA SBIR 2004 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER: 04 X4.01-9020
SUBTOPIC TITLE: In-Space Assembly and Construction
PROPOSAL TITLE: Photonic Robots

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Intelligent Fiber Optic Systems Corporation
650 Vaqueros Avenue
Sunnyvale, CA 94085-3525

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Behzad Moslehi
650 Vaqueros Avenue
Sunnyvale, CA 94085-3525

To operate complicated tools and perform intricate repairs requires a manipulator of great precision and excellent coordination. An instrument such as the human hand is a perfect example; it is an organ for the reception of and reaction to tactile stimuli, a perception that guides the repertoire of manual functions. However, the integration of an analogous sensing suite into a robotic platform poses a major technological challenge. The "smart skin" solution IFOS proposes is 2-D sensor based on the integration of high-sensitivity embedded Fiber Bragg grating (FBG), a custom engineered composite material - Nano Particle Material (NPM) ? and data interpretation and on-board decision-making. This sensor will support multi-point strain sensing to control the force exerted by robot end-effectors or manipulators on an object, required by such operations as assembly, surface-machining and cutting. Our goal is design and control of an anthropomorphic manipulation prototype based on high-resolution artificial taction. Optical sensors promise particular advantages for a robot that can achieve high-fidelity force control and that can operate safely in contact with astronauts. FBG sensors are robust, highly accurate, and immune to electromagnetic interference. A network of such sensors can be integrated directly into the structure or skin of an anthropomorphic robot.

Space exploration will greatly benefit from robotic sensing technologies. This project will assist NASA in its goal to achieve humanoid robots designed to have the dexterity of a space-suited astronaut capable of operating tools and performing extra-vehicular repairs on a manned spacecraft that were originally designed for human operation. Robots will furthermore displace humans in high risk areas, such as long space travels, hazardous explorations, and research in human-unfriendly areas. Robotic sensing will enable human-like work to be performed in space for long periods of time without risk of human fatigue and miscalculations that would jeopardize mission effectiveness and results.

Multiple commercial applications exist for the robots that this project will assist. Our particular interest is robots for performing tasks in environments that are dangerous or inaccessible for humans, e.g., in the handling of nuclear or bio-hazardous materials.