ISRO’s AI-enabled Vyommitra: India’s humanoid bot to lead space travel mission Gaganyaan

Huma Siddiqui
ISRO, Vyommitra, AI enabled Vyommitra, India humanoid bot, Gaganyaan missions, space flight, technology, Characteristics of Vyommitra

Vyommitra (Sanskrit for 'space friend') has been showcased as the Humanoid prototype (with a female form)for the Gaganyaan missions. Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has limited experience with long-duration crewed flights. It has recognized the fact that the critical technology for space flight by humans evolve only with trials and errors, and a humanoid de-risks human life, while the space travel capability is under development. Human space travel programmes, be it the US or Russia, is bereft with incidents caused by technical glitches. ISRO too acknowledges the responsibility it owes to the nation, and understands that despite best of the efforts, space travel for humans is always a risky business, and due to vagaries of space flight, technology is never fully fool-proof.

ISRO Chairman K Sivan recently announced that " The humanoid is almost ready. We want to make sure that this mission serves a purpose displaying our ability to send humans and bring them back safely. Our robot is going to be sort of a human, and be ready to do whatever a person can do, although not as extensively as humans. "

Characteristics of Vyommitra

As per ISRO, Vyommitra is still under development and is being called a half humanoid.

It's role has been described as monitoring of crew parameters, perform Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) functions, and mimic all crew activity like switch operations on a panel, etc. It shall be the companion for the astronaut, recognize his face and respond to various queries.

"To carry out these functions like Facial Recognition, etc., Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools shall be used inside the humanoid. It shall be also trained to operate critical machines in the crew module, initially expected to do alone during the only humanoid flights and, later, as an associate of crew member within the spacecraft cabin. Various sensors and instrumentation inside the humanoid records the parameters like heat, noise, gravitational de-acceleration etc. during the space flight, so that scientist makes changes to make the space flight more suitable and safer for humans. Safety is always the top priority for human missions. Items like space suit mimic all of the protections from the harsh environment of space and the basic resources that Earth and its atmosphere provide. The spacesuit shall too be worn by the humanoid in order to know its efficacy in space flight in the actual environment, and make modifications before a human uses it for an actual flight, "explains Milind Kulshreshtha, C4I expert.

Sharing his view, Kulshreshtha says, "The present showcased version of Vyommitra shall still undergo various developmental cycles for an improved electronics, actuators and sensing capability. Every space travelling humanoid needs to have multiple Degrees-of-freedom in movement. The arms, hands, torso and legs for humanoids comprise of series of electro-elastic linear and rotary actuators so as to emulate human functions. The head part houses microprocessor chips and various other sensor suites. The power supply of Vyommitra shall be from a source in astronauts chair and with some battery backup power within its body."

Gaganyaan Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS)

The key role of Vyommitra shall be to support the crew in operations of Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS). Earth's natural life support system provides the air we breathe, the water for drinking and other conditions that support life. However, for humans to survive in space, these functions must be done by artificial means. "The ECLSS is a system of regenerative life support mechanism which provides clean air and water to the crew through artificial means. The main functions of ECLSS are to supply oxygen for metabolic consumption and remove carbon dioxide from the cabin air. The particulates and micro-organism are filtered from the cabin air. Also, ECLSS supply the potable water for human consumption, food preparation and hygiene uses. Overall maintains total cabin pressure, temperature and humidity levels are undertaken by ECLSS," he says.

Future Space Travel

According to the C4I expert "AI embedded humanoid shall be handling the Navigation, pre-programmed experiments and regular tasks apart from assisting in various manoeuvres. This humanoid shall complement the efforts of an astronaut, and provide essential crew support, leaving the astronauts time to focus on other crucial tasks. This shall help send spacecraft deeper into space than ever before by providing support during inter-planetary travel, and assist them in daily tasks. These robots could be the valuable mission partner during long dark space journeys of years and capable of operating in degraded or damaged human-engineered environments."

In due course the female form of Vyommitra is likely to be modified to take on the male form since IAF personnel shortlisted for first manned Gaganyaan flight are all men, and space suit design to verify safety parameters shall have perfect form factor as per the chosen astronauts.

The design configuration for the Gaganyaan rocket GSLV Mk-III-D2 shall be finalised a week from now. These design changes shall be more towards making the rocket design suitable for human travel in terms of Command module integration for displaying rocket parameters and controls integrated to it etc.