Energid Technologies
Cambridge, MA
617-401-7090
www.energid.com

For obvious reasons, conditions on lunar and planetary surfaces can understandably be hard to duplicate physically, even in the best case when they are well understood, if only from a distance. This makes digital simulations an essential tool during mission planning and development. Simulation can be used to study the effects of changes in terrain, lighting, reflectance, and other environmental factors on mission success.

The Energid project with NASA will enable high-fidelity extensions for space environments, and focus primarily on NASA’s KREX robotic vehicle platform.
In a typical space mission, though, many conditions are poorly understood. There may, for example, be limited understanding of soil — or regolith — properties before contact on a lunar mission. Addressing this requires special conceptual and mathematical tools. Parameters must be randomized to capture potential outcomes, and results must be optimized to discover the corner cases and unexpected outcomes that could impact a mission. Energid developed a new robot simulation that accommodates uncertainty and discovers exceptional behaviors during mission planning.

Actin software supports randomizing simulations of all types of robotic systems. It has physics-based models for articulated dynamics, contact dynamics, sensor simulation, and communications. In this effort, Actin, and its stochastic simulation capability, will be extended to specialize this capability for new NASA space applications.

Some of Actin’s characteristics that make it particularly suited for such applications include automated reaction to dynamic workspaces including collision avoidance, velocity profiles of manipulated objects, and complex dexterous manipulation. Actin will be tailored to the space environment by modeling lunar regolith with highly parallelized particle models implemented on graphical processing units (GPUs). GPUs allow execution of high-fidelity simulation in real time on common computer hardware. The software will also support the appearance of lunar and planetary surfaces to allow high-fidelity simulation of cameras and other sensors.

The work will focus primarily on NASA’s KREX robotic vehicle platform, and will be commercialized by applying it to configure robotic systems and workcells on Earth.

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NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the January, 2016 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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