Title: Robot FRIEND: an innovative approach to space
Author: prof. Alberto Rovetta N. AG-1

A. Rovetta, P. Cavestro, Redundant Sensorized Arm+Hand System for Space Telerobotized Manipulation, Nasa Conference on Telemanipulation on Space, Pasadena, February 1989

Project of a telerobot, called FRIEND (Flying Robot with Intelligently Ended Nursing Dexterity). The project has been commissioned from the Italian Space Agency to Milan Politecnico.
Robot FRIEND joins in himself the characteristics of autonomy and resistance of automatic machines for space and the typical elasticity of earth based robots, obtaining remarkable advantages in all the tasks that may be carried out in obit, because its philosophy of operating is derived from machines that already have proved their flexibility and performances.

Space Missions have seen an intensive use of robotics and automation during the last few years. This due to the need of increasing intelligence on board and reducing the costs. This tendency will come emphasized in the new millennium thanks to new developments in computer science technology and of artificial intelligence. The mechanical technology is becoming adequate to such fast evolutions, pushing the micro mechanics to the new frontiers of the molecular mechanisms. So it is necessary to develop and experiment new robotics technologies for space missions.

Designed and constructed in Laboratory in order to catch objects in the space, by means of two robotics and sensorized articulate arms. The two arms can catch a free object and lock it inside the arms, against the spherical body of the robot. The prototype of FRIEND1 runs with c.c. brushless motors and batteries. The control is entrusted to a Galil card inserted in a personal computer. The control software has been developed in Windows environment using Visual Basic language.
The originality of project Friend consists in its independent and particularly flexible robotic system. The robot is indeed remarkably independent and capable of carrying out whichever type of movement on the space structures in complete absence of links. Many current robotic systems are statically bound to the space station structure, or have to follow railroads on the structure.
The robotic system is capable of overtaking any kind of obstacles.
The multi-degrees of freedom kinematic structure is more innovative than the actual solutions in the scientific literature, for the disposition of the degrees of freedom. This structure allows achieving a great flexibility in the movements.

Future possible developments
The use of a robot in space is particularly useful considering the high degree of flexibility that is typical of every robotic structure. The robot can be used for various purposes, and be configured for carrying out different tasks from those for which it has been built. The possibility of using interchanging actuators (end-effectors) facilitates this task and makes the machine always capable of answering to the requirements that the space activities demand.
Robot FRIEND is able to carry out automatic assembling tasks such as building space stations or orbiting telescopes. It can also be operated to help astronauts putting together the parts of a space ship for planets exploration, which will be a major activity in the next years.