The use of AI in space exploration is increasing at an unprecedented pace, with the market being valued at a staggering $2 billion and still growing. There are literally more stars in space than there are grains of sand on Earth, and each of those stars could harbor life or have a potentially habitable planet. Even if all humans were to unite under one umbrella and study each of those stars, they’ll run short on time.
There has to be a faster, better, and more efficient solution that can take care of all the grunt work: enter artificial intelligence. This is how we could one day make interplanetary and even interstellar travel, a real possibility. At the forefront of innovation in AI is Bosch with its advanced acoustic sensors, more notably, the SoundSee AI algorithm.
This article is authored by Ronald van Loon, and sponsored by Bosch and it will investigate the use of AI in space exploration.
AI is Changing the Nature of Space Exploration
Government agencies and private organizations alike are working to overcome barriers that block progress in learning more about space. Despite space being a limitless expanse of almost empty void, there is always potential for real danger out there, whether it is in the form of cosmic radiation, earth-shattering meteors, or colossal galactic events.
In order to have any chance of learning more about outer space so we can one day traverse safely across this exciting frontier, we have to better understand the environment and risks. Human beings cannot realistically explore every facet of space. This is why governments have set up multiple programs that make use of AI and ML to search for potentially dangerous risks and events in space.
Scientists have also used AI in charting unmarked galaxies, supernovas, stars, blackholes, and studying cosmic events that would otherwise go unnoticed without using machine learning algorithms. One particularly interesting use of AI in astronomy is the ability to recognize and classify rocky worlds that are similar to the ones in our own solar system. These ‘exoplanets’ are discovered by recognizing how light behaves as it passes through their atmosphere.
This allows scientists to determine what the general ‘consistency’ of the planet is in terms of elements that could support life, such as oxygen and methane.
Then there is the use of deep learning to simulate galaxy formation and using it to classify galactic images seen from the Hubble Space Telescope.One advantage of AI is that it never tires and can grade consistently.
Another important area that has only recently picked up momentum is the use of acoustics in space to identify problems. Astronauts are trained psychologically and physically to deal with the extreme environments in space under no gravity conditions. To put things in perspective, the whole universe is a potential danger– be it cosmic radiation, extreme temperature, and even space debris! This is why it is important to identify and troubleshoot problems before they arise. Bosch’s acoustic sensors can prove to be helpful by identifying problems in space before they occur. This process is made easier with help from the SoundSee algorithm on board the Astrobee.
AI is Changing Life for Astronauts
Life as an astronaut aboard the International Space Station can be hard work. There are far too many jobs to perform, not enough gravity, dwindling provisions, and the ever impending threat of being stranded out in space!
Artificial intelligence takes some of the load off astronaut’s feet and gives them a moment of respite. Perhaps more noteworthy is the use of the CIMON robot to make the life of astronauts less of a chore, and maybe even entertaining. CIMON was sent to ISS using the Falcon 9. This ‘flying robot’ uses voice commands and touch screens to communicate with astronauts.
Then there is the super helpful Astrobee, which looks like it was pulled straight out of a science fiction film. This cube shaped flying machine helps astronauts with routine tasks and uses AI and machine learning to reduce the time astronauts spend on relatively mundane tasks such as identifying faults in machinery on the space station. These dexterous robots are also equipped with Bosch’s SoundSee technology.
It can continuously record operating sounds from equipment on board the space station and send them back to Earth for evaluation by scientists. More importantly, SoundSee uses AI-based sound analysis to evaluate the performance of critical machines by detecting subtle irregularities in their noise patterns. This can be crucial aid for astronauts and help them troubleshoot problems before they arise.
And the best part? Astrobee floats silently without making a noise and never gets in the personal space of astronauts as they go about their daily routine, unless it is needed!
Future Potential for Space Flight
AI will play an important role in space exploration. It has helped us discover numerous exoplanets, stars, galaxies, and more recently, two new planets in our very own solar system. Artificial intelligence has also established new theories, such as Mars once used to have water on its surface.
NASA used machine learning to discover Kepler-90i, an exoplanet that orbits a distant Sun-star only about 2,540 light years from Earth. In order to put AI to good use, scientists have to train the model with the help of neural networks to identify recorded signals.
In many ways, AI is a great way for humans to overcome the various challenges involved in space travel. The fact of the matter, humans are simply not biologically capable of space travel. To put things in perspective, 70% of all astronauts that go into space get ill because of zero gravity. This is why an AI robot can prove to be useful by identifying patterns in their behavior and giving them medical help as and when they need it.
In the case of deep space missions, AI can play a pivotal role when reporting systems are unable to respond. AI can apply deep learning to facial recognition and speech recognition to establish a conversation with scientists. AI can perform dangerous and redundant tasks that are not suited to astronauts. The use of CIMON onboard the ISS and Bosch’s SoundSee are two great examples of space exploration friendship between machine and human.
SoundSee uses its array of microphones and sensors to capture equipment sounds and then uses Bosch’s highly advanced AI to identify potential repairs. On Earth, SoundSee could be explored for potential applications in Industry 4.0, autonomous vehicles, and emerging building technologies. I even could imagine the SoundSee technology being used to improve a self-driving vehicle’s responsiveness to rescue or law enforcement vehicles by automatically identifying and reacting to sirens and clearing out of their path.
Another application for AI in outer space is in self-driving spacecrafts, just like self-driving cars here on Earth. Spacecraft operators will have to train machine learning algorithms to steer clear of objects in outer space instead of slamming right into them. There are a lot of use cases where AI can be implemented to gather data, troubleshoot problems, and steer astronauts or critical space equipment clear of danger.
In order to truly empower spacecraft operators in outer space, they have to first gain trust in AI through validation activities and traditional verification. Word of caution though, it is of pertinent importance to keep human operators in the loop at all times. We are still a long way off before developing fully autonomous systems and making them accessible for scientists.
It won’t be long before we can deliver AI applications to dramatically expand the capabilities of space systems. For now, AI will continue to comb through large amounts of information.
Ronald van Loon is CEO, Principal Analyst Intelligent World, Helping Data-Driven Companies Generating Success. He is among the Top 10 AI Data IoT Influencer. Do follow him in his social channels. He will be giving great value about the technologies like AI and many more. Do follow his social network for more great articles and insights.