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BB-8 at NASA Proves Bot Playdates Are Adorable
published during a waning gibbous moon.
03/28/2016
BB-8

“Will you be my friend?”

When BB-8, the droid from Star Wars Episode VII, rolls into town, excitement tags along. Earlier this month the rotund rabble-rouser dropped by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to meet droids being sent on missions in a galaxy that’s not too far, far away. Here’s some of the things you may not have known about BB-8’s pit stops:

BB-8 Pays Fealty to King Louie

BB-8

“Bow before me!” -King Louie
Credit: NASA/JPL

King Louie (pictured above) may seem like just a little bot, but it’s actually a heavyweight champion. In a robotics competition held by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the RoboSimian drove all of its 275 pounds in a vehicle, dismounted, and used a drill to bust through a wall.

Tasks like these are critical for situations when humans can’t reach an inhospitable terrain, such as a nuclear plant disaster. The most common affliction robots face? Falling down. That’s what makes King Louie so special: He was only one of two robots that didn’t need a (human) hand during the challenge.

BB-8 Visits the Bot Nursery

Like hospital operating rooms, NASA’s clean suites are sterile and kept free of microscopic intruders. The purpose of these meticulously maintained rooms is simple: Space equipment is so sensitive, the smallest iota of dust can damage its components. And once something like the Hubble Space Telescope’s optics reach space, they’re not terribly accessible for a good wipe.

Just how squeaky clean are they? To access one clean room, employees go through a series of rooms, and the first, nicknamed the vestibule, has a sticky floor that grabs dirt from shoes. The next room is a forced-air shower to shake away loose debris from their bodies, and the final requires extensive sterile attire, including gloves and face masks. There’s even a smaller clean room to accommodate NASA’s more petite creations.

BB-8’s Bot-Curious

Mars’ beloved resident, Curiosity Rover, has siblings back on Earth at JPL’s Mars Yard, a recreated Martian landscape that mimics the planet’s environment, down to its soil and rocks. The space allows the robots to putter around as they would on the Red Planet, and researchers can test their abilities and give them necessary tweaks. Recently the European Space Agency built its own sand pit to develop algorithms for its ExoMars mission.