What if your space robots need to figure it out for themselves?

October 20, 2023



What if your space robots need to figure it out for themselves?


When space agencies need to talk to the International Space Station (ISS), the call is easy to make. An astronaut is always there to pick up; and, because the ISS is only 400 km away, the connection is instantaneous. When the Lunar Gateway is launched, making that call will become more complicated. The Lunar Gateway won’t always have an astronaut on board and it will be 400,000 km away from Earth resulting in a communications lag. This means that somehow, the Lunar Gateway needs to be able to function independently.


Once the stuff of science fiction, this was the real-world problem that Menya Solutions, a small Sherbrooke-based company (now the AI Division of Levio, one of Canada’s fastest growing professional service companies) partnered with MDA to solve for the Canadian Space Agency in 2018.


Specifically, Menya’s AI specialists were tasked with helping MDA’s Canadarm3 Lunar Gateway space robots “think for themselves.”


The Gateway robots will have many sophisticated missions to accomplish -- from helping to assemble and service the Gateway, to conducting inspections and repairs, and helping conduct science on behalf of researchers on Earth -- frequently without access to immediate human help. It is essential that the robots be able to reason through what needs to be done to achieve Gateway missions and how to respond to changes in circumstances or the environment.


Canadarm3 will use HybridLogic, an AI technology developed by Menya. “HybridLogic enables robots to reason and plan complex goal-oriented sequences of actions automatically. HybridLogic will be an essential part of the ‘brain’ of Canadam3,” explains Froduald Kabanza, who founded Menya Solutions in 2007 and is now Chief Technical Advisor of the AI Division of Levio.


The work Levio’s Menya Solutions division is doing with MDA is groundbreaking. Canadarm3 is not just a robot; it is an extremely sophisticated robot, the first of its kind to operate in deep space. It will be able to move around the outside of the Gateway to reach different work sites, work on its own or in conjunction with a smaller arm, its robotic “hand;” and it will handle its many missions independently - all in an unprecendented environment.


“What we are dealing with here are highly complex operations that require true reasoning and the planning of immediate action. And, importantly, there is practically no allowable margin of error,” says Froduald.


“Working with MDA, the world leader in space robotics, has catapulted us to the forefront of the industry, states Gilles Couturier, COO of Levio Consulting. “Being chosen as their partner is a game changer. It has opened many doors for us already – there are other big projects in the works. We know this is just the beginning of a great partnership that offers many opportunities.”


The advances in AI needed to enable this level of functionality bring opportunities for Canada too. Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne explains “the work done by Menya Solutions will enable Canadarm3 to perform highly complex operations through advances in artificial intelligence while developing critical technologies that will fuel economic growth and create high-value jobs in our country. This will also enable Canada to remain at the forefront of a capability that drives economic competitiveness in many sectors, and secure our place as a world leader in the space sector."