Robots tackle tough environments

For years people dreamed of a world where robots lived alongside humans as workers, sidekicks and friends. Today humans most often envision a future where robots work collaboratively with people.

“As a species, humans have always had an interest in projecting ourselves into distant places. We started with voice — that was the telephone. Next were images, better known as the television. And robotics is the next step,” says Robbie Mandelbaum, a robotics expert and CTO for Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Laboratories.

While humans travel beyond Earth’s atmosphere, exploring the deepest corners of the solar system remains a job for robotic systems. [youtube=] These space exploration vehicles, thousands of miles from Earth, must operate for years without physical human intervention.

“We’re trying to build robots that go where it is too hard for people to go and do what is too hard for people to do,” said Gill Pratt, DARPA program manager, at a recent press conference on the DARPA Robotics Challenge.

On Nov. 18, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission launched into space. MAVEN, built by Lockheed Martin, is scheduled to arrive at Mars in Sept. 2014. After inserting itself into orbit at Mars, the spacecraft will spend a year exploring the planet’s upper atmosphere without the physical intervention of humans.

In addition to MAVEN, Lockheed Martin has pioneered systems that launch sea-based ballistic missiles, conduct space-based surveillance and explore every planet in the solar system — all using advanced autonomy to help humans complete their missions.×1-gigaom.gif