Canadaarm2 at the ISS. Source: Wikimedia Commons - spaceflight.nasa.gov

Published: November 22nd, 2018

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has announced that it is working with companies in British Columbia and Quebec to equip future space robots with artificial intelligence.

The CSA is working with MDA, a Maxar Technologies company, (creator of the original Canadaarm), as well as AI experts from Sherbrooke, Que.-based Menya Solutions to help give the newer robotic arms, Canadaarm2 and Dextre the ability to perform tasks autonomously.

“Giving robots some autonomy will be critical for new missions into deep space. Set to be located in increasingly distant destinations, space robots of the future will have to work without human help, relying on AI to make decisions,” stated the CSA press release, “this pioneering work will ensure Canada’s continued competitiveness in space robotics when future opportunities arise.”

Apparently, the Canadaarm2, which is currently part of the International Space Station (ISS), will be able to carry out tasks in space without human intervention as soon as 2020.

Dextre, a two-armed robot designed for picking up tools and putting down hardware has been a part of the ISS since 2008, will also eventually be able to “[autonomously] handle payloads and carry out repairs independently,” the release stated.

Menya is a small company based out of Quebec that specializes in creating AI software systems. One of its current products involves automated AI agents for the Navy that helps “humans and drones in understanding a tactical situation and making timely and optimal decisions to counter threats during naval operations,” its website states.

MDA has been around for more than 50 years and has worked with the CSA previously to help build the original Canadaarm as well as the subsequent Canadaarm2 and Dextre.

A new AI-powered international space station

This work of developing AI-powered space robots is all part of a larger project. Countries from around the world are involved in a proposal for a new space station in the vicinity of the moon, known as the Lunar Gateway, which according to the CSA will serve as a stepping stone for future deep-space exploration.

AI will play a key role in that new station as it will rely on AI-based autonomous robots for its upkeep, according to the release, “[and] robots will assemble and service the Gateway, capture visiting spacecraft and help conduct science on behalf of researchers on Earth.”

This project between the CSA, MDA and Menya is Canada’s opportunity to contribute its artificial intelligence expertise on the international space project.

At this point it’s unclear whether Canada has officially signed on to be involved in Gateway but what is clear is that the CSA and fellow industry leaders are trying their best to leave the Canadian mark on this lunar project.

According to the release over 500 Canadian organizations from machine shops to software developers were part of the supply chain that built and sustained Canadian robots currently on the ISS and getting AI-powered robots to space will just as likely take a team effort.

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