When NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover left for the red plant, it featured a custom force/torque (F/T) sensor developed by Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL) engineers who worked in concert with ATI Industrial Automation.

Part of NASA’ Mars Exploration Program, the commissioned project is a collaborative effort undertaken by NASA, JPL, and other organizations to develop new technology to explore Mars’ surface and learn about the red planet from first-hand experience. The project includes searching for signs of ancient microbial life, categorizing the climate and geology of Mars to help determine the existence of inhabitable conditions, recovering samples from the planet’s surface, and preparing for human exploration.

The Perseverance Rover is an unmanned robotic vehicle about the size of a car. During its exploration, it will collect and index small samples of rock and soil from prime locations. Once on board, sample tubes are cached inside the rover for eventual return to earth.

JPL needed an automated system to collect and handle space material and move it through the indexing process. The resulting adaptive caching assembly (ACA) application resembles common industrial pick-and-place operations.

Integral to the adaptive caching assembly (ACA), the F/T sensor enables collision detection and active force control while processing samples.

The sample caching subsystem includes an adaptive caching assembly, a large robotic arm with a drill, and an assortment of drill bits to collect samples from designated areas on Mars’ surface. Once collected, the sample handling assembly (SHA) small robotic arm inspects and seals the samples in the rover’s on-board laboratory. An ATI F/T sensor integrated within the SHA end-effector assembly enhances responsiveness. With force sensing from ATI, the SHA maneuvers easily through the tight workspace, performing demanding tasks with extreme accuracy.

This subsystem emulates automated processes found in manufacturing industries, where robots (often equipped with ATI F/T sensors) make repetitive operations more precise by verifying process controls such as indicating that a pin is inserted properly into a fixture.

ATI has specialized sensors for various environments; however, nothing quite compares to the what’s expected during the Mars 2020 mission – subzero surface temperatures, rugged terrain, and subsystems surviving the initial Atlas V rocket launch.

To deliver a robust force sensing solution for Perseverance, ATI adapted its F/T sensor technology to offset the varying environmental conditions. The sensor’s new design provides signal redundancy and compensation for temperature variation, ensuring accurate resolution of forces and torques throughout the mission. The thermally calibrated sensor operates optimally in a spectrum of extreme temperatures. To develop and test these features, the ATI engineering team designed specialized calibration equipment and conducted 24-hour surveillance during product trials.

Components made of thermally stable, low-outgassing materials were added to fortify the sensor against drastic environmental fluctuations. These materials also prevent cross-contamination of samples during the mission.

Perseverance launched July 2020 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and will arrive on Mars in February 2021.

Beyond outer space applications, ATI’s space-rated F/T sensor provides active force control for applications where repair opportunities are limited or in situations with high vacuum or extreme temperature variability.

Through this project, ATI developed new technology that will be a part of NASA history and provide robust and reliable force sensing to applications on Earth, benefitting industries such as metal casting, foundries, and other applications where conditions dictate continuous use in extreme environments. ATI looks forward to following Perseverance, the Mars 2020 Rover during its mission and to the innovative new applications that will feature this space-rated F/T sensor.

ATI Industrial Automation

Jet Propulsion Laboratory

maxon, ANYbotics partner

maxon and ANYbotics are collaborating to strengthen Switzerland as a prime location for robotics. As part of the partnership, maxon will handle future development and production of actuators for ANYmal, an autonomous, four-legged robot that can inspect and monitor industrial systems and, in the future take on dangerous maintenance tasks.

maxon Group’s 60 years of experience in drive technology, as well as a global production infrastructure and validated processes, will advance industrialization and commercialization of ANYmal – which uses12 competitive, high-performance drive systems in each robot.

maxon is opening a lab at its Zürich Campus near ANYbotics.

ANYbotics AG

maxon precision motors Inc.

Wago teams with Motion Technologies

Motion Technologies, a UL508A certified control panel shop, metal fabricator, and total solutions provider, has become Wago’s newest Solutions Provider. With more than 20 years of industry experience, Motion Technologies will provide accurate and competitive solutions for Wago customers in material handling, packaging, and petrochemicals.

“From the design phase to the build phase to the delivery phase, Motion Technologies is very talented and has a lot of capabilities within their offerings,” says Kelby Seyl, Wago regional sales manager.

Motion Technologies Inc.

Wago Corp.