Tethers Unlimited’s Robotic Tool-Change System Selected for More NASA Funding

Rgw androgynous robotic tool-change interface (ARTIE) in action. (Credit: Tethers Unlimited)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA has selected Tethers Unlimited’s androgynous robotic tool-change interface (ARTIE) for continued funding under its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

ARTIE is designed for the hard and soft capture of tools and infrastructure support for robotic assets such as Tethers Unlimited’s KRAKEN robotic manipulator and NASA’s Astrobee.

“The ARTIE interface will provide tool-change functionality for robotic systems supporting astronaut activities and autonomous operations on the ISS and the Deep Space Gateway, on platforms such as AstroBee and the MANTIS teleoperation system,” the company said. “It will also support robotic manipulator functionalities for in-Space Assembly activities such as construction of the 30 m iSAT Space Telescope.”

The SBIR phase II award is worth up to $750,000. NASA previously supported the project with a smaller phase I award.

The project summary follows.

ARTIE: Versatile Hot-Swappable Robotic Interface
Subtopic: Technologies for Intra-Vehicular Activity Robotics

Tethers Unlimited, Inc.
Bothell, WA

Principal Investigator
Dr. Nathan Britton

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) :
Begin: 4
End: 6

Technical Abstract

Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI) proposes to develop “ARTIE”, an androgynous robotic tool-change interface for hard capture of tools and infrastructure support for robotic assets on the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway.

ARTIE serves as a miniaturized power and data grapple interface for use on robotic assets, such as TUI’s KRAKEN robotic manipulator and NASA’s Astrobee. A Gateway version of Astrobee and KRAKEN can share tools and payloads with other assets for more efficient use of Gateway resources.

The androgynous nature of ARTIE will allow the same interface to be used throughout the Gateway as an infrastructural element. ARTIE can also serve Astrobee docking, support of a Gateway KRAKEN for base mounting and inch-worming, and dynamic reconfigurability of all Gateway robotic assets.

The low-profile nature of ARTIE also reduces the cost and overhead of including capture fixtures on payloads tools and infrastructural elements where autonomous support is anticipated.

In the Phase II effort, ARTIE will be matured to TRL 6 by producing CDR ready connector samples, demonstrating the use of the connector with TUI’s robotic systems, and preparing connector documentation to allow adoption by third party systems.

In Phase II, the design will be implemented as a KRAKEN tool changer for TUI’s MANTIS ISS payload for functional testing.

Potential NASA Applications

ARTIE will enable TUI’s MANTIS teleoperation payload to serve multiple Express Rack  payload on the ISS, including VEGGIE and NanoLab experiments.

Additionally ARTIE will serve as a flexible space station infrastructure element allowing dynamic re-configuration of robotic assets on Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway (LOP-G) as well as a variety of robotic systems under development by NASA, such as Astrobee and Robonaut.

An EVA version of ARTIE will be useful for any deep-space mission requiring extensive and flexible use of multiple robotic assets.

Potential Non-NASA Applications

TUI is developing a number of high-performance in space robotic systems and architectures that will require a hot-swappable tool change interface such as ARTIE.

TUI’s LEO Knight Robotic Vehicle utilizes KRAKEN-X robotic arms and is crucial to a number of TUI’s programs for in-Space Servicing (iSS), in-Space Assembly (iSA), and in-Space Manufacturing (iSM).

Duration: 24 months