UAE students to program robots on the International Space Station

The Kibo Robot Programming Challenge offers undergraduates the chance to develop their coding skills

The Astrobee robot is used by astronauts on the International Space Station. Courtesy: JAXA 
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UAE university students are helping develop coding for robots on board the International Space Station.

Their efforts are part of an international competition being held by Japan’s space agency, Jaxa.

Undergraduates have been asked to address fictitious disaster scenarios and work out how Astrobee - Nasa’s free-flying robot - should respond.

The robot - which uses electric fans as a propulsion system - currently helps astronauts with routine duties such as documenting experiments or taking inventories.

“Having this on my portfolio for future job applications is going to be huge,” said Roshan Bhatkar, an aerospace engineering student at Dubai’s Amity University.

“Not everyone would be able to say that they have operated a robot on the International Space Station.”

Thirty eight UAE teams participated in Japan’s Kibo Robot Programming Challenge, but only a few have made it to the final round.

Students were required to develop coding to allow Astrobee to travel across ISS to respond to a developing emergency.

The specific scenario was that a fire had erupted on board after a “meteor hit the structure”. Lasers on Astrobee were needed to “fix the leakage” caused by the blaze.

The competition’s final round will be held in September. Seven countries are taking part, including Australia, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan and the UAE.

Teams from the Emirates include students from Khalifa University, New York University Abu Dhabi, Amity University, JSS International School and Applied Technology High School, among others.

The finalists were meant to travel to Japan’s Tsukuba Space Centre for the final round, but that may no longer be possible due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.

A simulation of the challenge during the preliminary round. Courtesy: Mr Bhatkar 

“There are several requirements for the programming,” said Nelvin Vincent, a student from the Amity University team.

“The robot would have to be adaptable to any potential danger in front it, such as detecting objects.”