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PickNik Robotics Earns Contracts for Space Robotics Applications


October 25, 2022

PickNik Robotics, which develops robotics software and engineering services, has announced it was awarded three contracts to develop robotics applications. The company won a SpaceWERX contract to work on robotics for the U.S. Space Force, as well as a NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I contract for continued work on supervised autonomy for space robotics. In addition, the company was awarded a grant from the Colorado Advanced Industries Accelerator (AIA) for space robotics development.

“These three wins provide additional validation of our work in space robotics, a major focus area for our company,” said 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.”

The SpaceWERX contract will have PickNik developing enhanced control for on-orbit capture of space assets, as well as increasing 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). Collaborating with PickNik on this project is the Nuclear and Applied Robotics Group at the University of Texas, Austin.

PickNik said it will use its MoveIt Space software to allow Earth-based operators to coordinate autonomous robots in both intravehicular (IVA) and extravehicular activities (EVA). The software incorporates best-in-class motion planning and control software with an intuitive UI. 

The NASA SBIR contract is for PickNik to further advance its work with the space agency on supervised autonomy. The company said it will develop machine learning models to enable operators to use high-level instructions to direct robots on a variety of tasks, including opening station module doors, cabinets and drawers, as well as interact with objects such as valves, buttons and switches (photo above is of a space robot concept called Tridex).

Last year, the company earned a NASA SBIR Phase II contract for advanced planning capabilities for robots in microgravity environments, which resulted in a general infrastructure for planning and executing motions in a static environment. The insights and experience from that project have helped to shape the MoveIt Space software, PickNik said.

The AIA grant is part of a program 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 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.”

PickNik said it is also collaborating with several other companies on space robotics use cases, including Sierra Space, Motiv Space Systems and Tethers Unlimited. For more details on the company, visit the PickNik Robotics website here.

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