PickNik Robotics wins Space Force, NASA contracts

PickNik Robotics has previously worked with NASA to develop advanced planning capabilities for robots in microgravity environments. | Source: PickNik Robotics

PickNik Robotics announced that it recently won two contracts, a SpaceWERX contract to work on robotics for the U.S. Space Force and a NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I contract, as well as a Colorado Advanced Industries Accelerator (AIA) grant for space robotics. 

The company’s contract with SpaceWERX, the innovation arm of the U.S. Space Force and part of the Air Force Research Laboratory, involves PickNik Robotics helping develop enhanced control for capturing space assets in orbit. PickNik will work with the Nuclear and Applied Robotics Group at the University of Texas, Austin, and will focus on using robotic arms to capture and manipulate objects in orbit for In-space Servicing, Assembly and Manufacturing (ISAM) missions. 

PickNik’s MoveIt Space software, which combines motion planning and control software with an intuitive user interface, will also be used to make it easier for Earth-based operators to coordinate autonomous robots in intravehicle activity and extravehicle activity applications. 

NASA’s contract with the company will further advance work that the company has already been doing with NASA on supervised autonomy. NASA and PickNik’s goal is to allow operators to give high-level instructions to a robot for things like opening station module doors, cabinets and drawers, and interacting with objects like vales, buttons and switches. 

PickNik, with its SBIR Phase I contract, will develop machine-learning models to help robots understand and carry out these high-level commands. The company previously received an SBIR Phase II contract to develop advanced planning capabilities for robots operating in microgravity environments, such as on the International Space Station (ISS).

The company received its Colorado AIA grant from the Colorado Office of Economic and International Trade for its work in space robotics. 

“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,” Dr. Mark Moll, the director of research at PickNik Robotics, said. “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.”

“These three wins provide additional validation of our work in space robotics, a major focus area for our company,” Dr. Dave Coleman, CEO of PickNik Robotics, said. “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.”

Earlier this year, PickNik made its MoveIt Studio Developer Platform and MoveIt Studio SDK (Software Development Kit) available commercially. The platform and SDK help robotics and software engineerings create, debug and ship complex robotic manipulation projects.

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