Robots have advanced the boundaries of human knowledge and capabilities in space, and new opportunities are continuing to emerge. Software and engineering services firm PickNik Inc. is having a good week in space.
The Boulder, Colo.-based company today announced that it won a SpaceWERX contract to work on robotics for the U.S. Space Force. In addition, it recently won a National Aeronautics and Space Administration contract for continued work on supervised autonomy, as well as a Colorado Advanced Industries Accelerator grant for space robotics.
“These three wins provide additional validation of our work in space robotics, a major focus area for our company,” stated Dr. Dave Coleman, CEO of PickNik Robotics. “We look forward to working with Space Force, NASA, and other organizations in the space economy to help them navigate the complexity and potential of robotics, specifically robotic arms, in that realm.”
Founded in 2015, PickNik Robotics said it helps companies address the technical, cost, and time challenges associated with the development of advanced robotic applications. Its partners include Google, Amazon, and Samsung.
The company also supports and collaborates with the worldwide open-source robotics movement and is the lead developer of the MoveIt motion-planning framework.
PickNik to develop capture controls for SpaceWERX
Under its SpaceWERX contract, PickNik Robotics will help develop enhanced control for on-orbit capture of space assets and increase the overall efficiency and safety of U.S. Space Force operations. The work will focus on capturing and manipulating objects in orbit using robotic arms for in-space servicing, assembly, and manufacturing (ISAM).
PickNik will use its MoveIt Space software, which is designed to help Earth-based operators coordinate autonomous robots in intravehicular activity (IVA) and extravehicular activity (EVA) applications. The software, which PickNik advanced with NASA’s Robonaut team, integrates best-in-class motion planning and control software with an intuitive user interface, according to the company.
The Nuclear and Applied Robotics Group at the University of Texas, Austin, is collaborating with PickNik on the project.
SpaceWERX is the innovation arm of the U.S. Space Force and a part of AFWERX, the Air Force Research Laboratory. Headquartered at the Los Angeles AFWERX hub, SpaceWERX collaborates with innovators to accelerate capabilities and shape the future in space.
NASA SBIR contract supports machine learning in space
PickNik Robotics will continue its work on supervised autonomy under its NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I contract. The company said it plans to develop machine learning models that will enable operators to use high-level instructions to direct a robot to do a variety of tasks.
The tasks include opening station module doors, cabinets, and drawers, as well as interacting with other objects such as valves, buttons, and switches.
Last year, PickNik Robotics was awarded a NASA SBIR Phase II contract for advanced planning capabilities for robots in microgravity environments. The work resulted in a general infrastructure for planning and executing motions in a static environment.
PickNik said insights and experience from that project have shaped its MoveIt Space supervised autonomy software.
Colorado AIA awards grant for growing U.S. space hub
The Colorado Office of Economic and International Trade recently awarded PickNik Robotics a major Advanced Industries Accelerator (AIA) grant for its work in space robotics.
The AIA Program was created in 2013 to promote growth and sustainability in Colorado’s advanced industries by driving innovation, accelerating commercialization, encouraging public-private partnerships, increasing access to early-stage capital, and creating a strong ecosystem that increases the state's global competitiveness.
“It is vitally important to enhance safety and lower the cost of spaceflight through robotics, and these three wins will enable us to support that endeavor,” said Dr. Mark Moll, director of research at PickNik Robotics. “Along with our MoveIt Space and MoveIt Studio software, we have more than 40 people at PickNik Robotics, with 363 years of combined robotics experience, who are ready to help organizations of all kinds embrace the massive opportunity in space.”
In late March, PickNik Robotics announced that it was collaborating with Sierra Space on robots for space habitats and deep space missions. The company is also working with Motiv Space Systems and Tethers Unlimited on space robotics.
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