Back to news

November 23, 2018 | Local, Aerospace

Canada's artificial intelligence leadership extending to space

Quebec-based company pushes the limits of Canadian robotics technology

SHERBROOKE, QC, Nov. 22, 2018 /CNW Telbec/ - New technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) are transforming all sectors of Canada's economy, including space.

Canada is leveraging its leadership in AI and space to unleash innovation in space exploration. The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is now exploring ways to equip future space robots with AI. Giving robots some autonomy will be critical for new missions into deep space. Set to be located in increasingly distant destinations, space robots of the future will have to work without human help, relying on AI to make decisions.

The CSA is collaborating with MDA, a Maxar Technologies company, and AI experts from Menya Solutions, a small company from Sherbrooke, Quebec, on the next generation of autonomous space robotics. MDA built the original Canadarm, Canadarm2 and Dextre, and are now taking steps towards the AI-based robots of the future by giving Canadarm2 and Dextre the ability to conduct certain tasks autonomously. This pioneering work will ensure Canada'scontinued competitiveness in space robotics when future opportunities arise.

Countries from around the world are preparing plans to build the successor to the International Space Station (ISS): an outpost in the vicinity of the Moon called the Gateway that will serve as a stepping stone for deep-space exploration. Unlike the ISS, which has been continuously inhabited for almost 20 years, this future orbiting lunar station will rely upon AI-based autonomous robotics for its upkeep. Robots will assemble and service the Gateway, and will capture visiting spacecraft and help conduct science on behalf of researchers on Earth.

"Artificial intelligence is transforming all industries and sectors, providing new opportunities for Canadians. It's exciting to see how the collaboration between Canada's space sector and our world-leading AI research is already helping small companies grow, innovate and export their expertise. By working together, we are supporting the creation of high-skilled jobs that play a significant role in boosting Canada's digital economy."

The Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development

"AI-enabled space robotics will extend the reach of human space exploration and will cement Canada's leading position in this critical technology area. Canada's robotics built the International Space Station and perform robotic operations while orbiting 400 km above the Earth. At 400,000 km from the Earth, the Lunar Gateway robotics will require artificial intelligence to operate more autonomously for significantly longer periods. MDA is proud to be working with Menya Solutions to develop and apply these essential technologies."

Mike Greenley, Group president at MDA

"Menya Solutions is excited and proud to work with the CSA and MDA on the next generation of AI-based autonomous robotics. Working with these world leaders in space and robotics technologies will create opportunities for us in other sectors and contribute to the growth of our business. This collaboration aligns well with our other ongoing efforts in helping different organisations to deploy AI solutions that support humans and machines in making decisions, improving living and working conditions, and allowing us to save money, time and lives. "

Froduald Kabanza, CEO at Menya Solutions

Quick facts

  • By 2020, Canadarm2 will be able to carry out certain tasks in space without human intervention, like moving around the ISS scanning it for problems.
  • Canadarm2 and Dextre would eventually be able to handle payloads and carrying out repairs independently. The CSA and MDA would also develop the know-how to be able to autonomously capture the Station's visiting cargo ships.
  • Based on projections by PricewaterhouseCoopers, AI is expected to contribute as much as US$15.7 trillion to the world economy by 2030.
  • Space contributes $5.5 billion and 10,000 direct jobs to our economy annually.
  • Innovative small and medium-sized enterprises make up 92 percent of Canada's space sector.
  • Over 500 Canadian organizations were involved in the supply chain that built and sustained Canada's robots on the International Space Station—from machine shops to software developers.

Follow us on Social Media

SOURCE Canadian Space Agency

On the same subject

  • Military eyes adaptive camouflage, self-repairing clothing for future troops

    January 29, 2021 | Local, Land

    Military eyes adaptive camouflage, self-repairing clothing for future troops

    5 Canadian universities leading cutting-edge research at cost of $9M over 3 years David Burke  From chameleon-inspired camouflage to clothing that mends itself when damaged, the Department of National Defence is looking to outfit Canadian troops with next-wave gear that provides better protection — and less detection — on the battlefield. Those are just two technologies in a long list of cutting-edge scientific advancements that DND is spending $9 million over three years to research, spearheaded by five Canadian universities. "Adaptive camouflage would be more like a chameleon where, depending on your background, your camouflage will modify itself. So if you are in front of a dark wall, your camouflage could be darker. If you are in front of a whiter wall, your camouflage would be lighter," said Eric Fournier, director general of innovation with DND.    That technology exists and is being worked on right now, he said.  Fournier and the researchers working for DND are tight-lipped on details about how effective this kind of technology is and exactly how it works. DND did not supply CBC with any images of the proposed designs. "I'm not sure we're allowed to talk about it all that much yet," said Shona McLaughlin, defence scientist portfolio manager with the federal Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security program.  Carleton University, Polytechnique Montreal, the University of Manitoba, the University of British Columbia and Université de Sherbrooke are leading the work. They have all received around $1.5 million so far, except for Polytechnique, which is working on two projects and has been given almost $3 million.  Researching advanced materials A handful of businesses are also helping with the research, including athletic apparel manufacturer Lululemon Athletica and engineering and manufacturing firm Precision ADM.  Each university is researching what's known as advanced materials, which are engineered to perform a variety of specific functions. Some of those materials can be fashioned into clothing that repairs itself. As an example, McLaughlin said a capsule could be embedded in a shirt or armoured vest that, when the garment or gear is damaged, bursts and releases a liquid or foam that solidifies and seals the hole. Research is also being done on new materials that may one day replace Kevlar and ceramics as the chief components of body armour.  "Now we're looking at materials where we can actually tune the properties, we can make them lighter weight, stronger and less bulky," said McLaughlin. The goal is to have armour that holds up better to bullets, high-velocity ballistics and shrapnel, and is more comfortable for the wearer. Reducing weight of soldiers' equipment It's innovation that would be extremely helpful to troops on the battlefield, said Randy Turner, a retired special forces soldier with years of experience in combat zones. Turner was part of the Canadian Armed Forces Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2), a highly trained unit that handles complex and risky missions throughout the world. He had tours of duty in Afghanistan and Bosnia. On average, Turner said soldiers carry around 60 to 65 pounds of equipment when they're on duty.   "A soldier spends a lot of time on his feet and he's moving in and around vehicles. Anything that could be a little bit smaller, a little bit lighter, would also be a little less taxing on the individual's body," said Turner. The adaptive camouflage and self-repairing clothing are also of interest to Turner. He said anything that helps a soldier blend in is useful. Rips and tears in uniforms and damage to boots are also common, so clothing that repairs itself would be helpful.  Still, he's apprehensive about the technology and questions whether wearable tech could distract military personnel from their job. "Has anyone asked, you know, what a soldier needs? Has anyone done a real hard needs assessment on what an infantry unit, for example, requires right now? I'm willing to bet the first thing that comes to mind is not going to be a uniform," said Turner.  Other areas of protection He said the $9 million being spent on the research could be used for other things.  "That's a lot of money that could be, in my opinion, better utilized to give an infantry unit some bullets so they can train and become proficient with their firearms," he said. "Give some quality training to soldiers, and that is a level of protection."    At the universities, research continues with teams experimenting with fabrics that can block radio signals and printable electronics that can be woven into clothing.  Printable electronics could perform a number of functions, according to McLaughlin, but she said monitoring a military member's health is high on the list.  "It could be for health monitoring, if you want to make sure your soldiers are not overly stressed because they're in a hot environment ... the heat, the blood pressure, the actual stress from the exertion, those things you might want to keep tabs on," she said.    Fournier has no doubt these new systems could help save lives.  "Our soldiers go all over the world for all kinds of missions," he said. "Just to inform them, for example, [that] they're getting dehydrated ... It could have an impact on how missions would happen, for sure." 'Processing challenges' Teams have been working on this research for a little over a year and while progress is being made, no one has come forward with a finished project. Fournier said work like this can take years and there's no guarantee of a final product. He said the important thing is that researchers are moving the science of advanced materials forward. "In the end, we may not end up with a new protecting gear, but we will have learned a lot about making that protective gear in the future," said Fournier.  McLaughlin also said people should temper their expectations.  "It's not as simple as throwing everything in a pot, stirring it, and boom — you've got a material," she said.  "There's processing challenges that [researchers] have to overcome. So that's one of the big things that they're working on right now ... how to actually create these things and how to evaluate them."

  • Canada Issues RFP for FAcT Program to Qualified Suppliers
  • Protecting Canada and improving cyber defence: three challenges
All news