When humans are finally ready to relocate civilization to Mars, they won’t be able to do it alone. They’ll need trusted specialists with encyclopedic knowledge, composure under pressure, and extreme endurance—droids like Justin. Built by the German space agency DLR, such humanoid bots are being groomed to build the first martian habitat for humans. Engineers have been refining Justin’s physical abilities for a decade; the mech can handle tools, shoot and upload photos, catch flying objects, and navigate obstacles. Now, thanks to new AI upgrades, Justin can think for itself. Unlike most robots, which have to be programmed in advance and given explicit instructions for nearly every movement, this bot can autonomously perform complex tasks—even those it hasn’t been programmed to do—on a planet’s surface while being supervised by astronauts in orbit. Object recognition software and computer vision let Justin survey its environment and undertake jobs such as cleaning and maintaining machinery, inspecting equipment, and carrying objects. In a recent test, Justin fixed a faulty solar panel in a Munich lab in minutes, directed via tablet by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station. One small chore for Justin, one giant leap for future humankind.
Who: Justin—it was completed “just in” time for a 2006 trade show
Height: 6’ 3”
Weight: 440 pounds
Lifting Strength: 31 pounds in each arm
Unexpected Talent: Making tea and coffee
Eyes: Hi-def cameras and sensors embedded in the head generate a 3-D view of Justin’s surroundings.
Probe: An R2D2-style data interface means Justin can sync up to computers and data collection stations. Eventually it will be able to charge its own battery by plugging into a solar power unit.
Hands: Eight jointed fingers allow the bot to deftly handle tools.
Base: Justin’s protocols are stored onboard, so it can complete tasks and save data even if communication links fail.
Wheels: DLR tested Justin’s future all-terrain robot wheels atop an active volcano.
This article appears in the January issue. Subscribe now.