Honeybee Robotics [Mechanical engineering]

Honeybee Robotics

Cool stuff brewing at Honeybee Robotics

Topics:Private spaceflight, future technology, Future Mission Concepts, explaining technology

Yesterday I was treated to a little tour (little, because it's a little building) of Honeybee Robotics' office here in Pasadena. They were putting on a show for a state visit by the new NASA Chief Technology Officer Mason Peck, and had invited media. (NASA had arranged the visit as an example of a small business involved in supplying technology to NASA.) I was one of only two media who showed up (the other was a photographer from a local newspaper), and I have to say that people who stayed away missed a cool show. There were plenty of people there from JPL to gawk at the toys. Honeybee is developing some great technology for future space missions for Earth, Mars, and beyond.

I put a photo album on Flickr. I had known of Honeybee before because I knew they had designed and built the Rock Abrasion Tools (or RATs) for the Mars Exploration Rovers. Here's one of those, "in the flesh" - Honeybee president Kiel Davis told me that the hardware here is 90% flight-qualified.

Emily Lakdawalla

Spirit and Opportunity Rock Abrasion Tool
A flight-qualified Rock Abrasion Tool mounted to a mostly-flight-qualified robotic arm mounted to a rover on a Go-Kart base.

Here's another view, looking up at the business end. Note the red rubber sling and screen-door spring holding it up - that's not flight hardware, that's a High Tech Earth Gravity Compensator. (My term.)

The business end of the Rock Abrasion Tool.

I had a long chat with Kiel where he talked about how amazed he is that the Opportunity team can still use the RAT. Like everything else on Opportunity, it is functioning waaaaaay past its warranty. The drill works okay, but the encoders - devices that measure and count the number of rotations made by each of the little motors inside the tool - failed a long time ago. Kiel said that he was involved in writing the original software for the RAT, and it depended entirely on the encoders to determine when the drill rasp had finished a complete orbit, which would trigger a different motor to make a tiny step downward into the rock, grinding away another microscopically thin layer. He said that, without those, they had to completely rewrite the software using thousands of conditional statements within the rover sequencing software (the stuff that Mars Rover Driver Scott Maxwell works with) plus very low-level commands to the RAT to do RAT grinds that basically use educated guesses for when to step downward into the grinds.

Here's a bunch of drill bits they had prototyped for use on a Rock Abrasion Tool for Curiosity, before the design spec changed. Honeybee went on to build the percussive rock drill that's on its way to Mars now. They also designed the drill rasp that flew on Phoenix. So all the rock drilling tools ever sent to Mars came from them!

Prototype bits for a new rock abrasion tool (never used)
A series of prototypes for a rock abrasion tool for Mars Science Laboratory, which was never developed (they switched to a percussive drill). The "teeth" are much longer than for MER because the drill would have needed to last much longer.

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Asimo is not meant to accomplish any one task but rather advance robotics for research purposes.
We will likely see useful outcomes both in and out of the automotive industry as a result.
Oh and they effectively use him (it) to promote their brand.

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