NASA picks early winners for its ISS robot arm challenge

Astrobee should reach the station in 2019.

NASA's bid to crowdsource an arm for its Astrobee cube robot is starting to bear fruit. The agency and have chosen early winners for the Astrobee Challenges Series, each of which has designed a key component for the robotic appendage. South African grad student Nino Wunderlin produced an attachment mechanism, while Filipino conceptual engineer Myrdal Manzano crafted a "smart" attachment system. Indian software engineer Amit Biswas, in turn, developed a simple deployment mechanism.

There's still a ways to go when nine of the contests in the challenge have yet to be unlocked. The last challenge should wrap up in September, however, and you won't have to wait years to see Astrobee in action. The free-floating cube robot should reach the International Space Station sometime in 2019, when it will replace SPHERES and assist the human crew with everything from monitoring to basic maintenance.