Broadcast 3399 Don Pickering

The Space Foundation Conference

25 Oct 2019 Don Pickering
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Guest:  Don Pickering;  Topics:   AI-driven remote robotic software for space and other applications, AI, robotics technology, business and political risks plus industry comparisons.

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We welcomed Don Pickering, CEO of Olis Robotics, to the show to discuss advanced AI and robotics for the space industry and needed controlling software.  During our one segment 61 minute discussion, Mr. Pickering provided us with lots of information on AI, robotics, the developing space industry, essential software needs for the space industry, and how terrestrial industries help enable product development for the space industry.  For example, Mr. Pickering and his company have significant experience in deep underwater robots with AI for the off shore oil industry.  During our hour with Don, he talked about extreme environments, similarities and unique issues for space, cold and radiation issues for software and hardware, and latency..

Latency is an issue of concern so listen to what he said about it and how to improve it.  You might be surprised by some of what he said on this subject and what it means for the user or the use one wants out of the software.  Pay attention to the latency times from Earth to Moon, being in lunar orbit to the Moon plus other examples.  When I specifically asked him about doing robotic surgery on the Moon from Earth or an orbital space station, well, just listen to what he said along with the probable developmental timelines for such surgery. 

Don told us about the Olis Robotics work on the Maxar Lunar Lander arm for NASA.  Maxar picked Olis to provide the advanced software needed for the future lunar arm (www.geekwire.com/2019/maxar-picks-olis-robotics-provide-software-future-lunar-robotic-arm).  At this point our guest was asked if they need to do anything special to their software so it would work in space and not be damaged by the space environment.  Very little needed to be done though for the hardware it was a different story.  Make sure you hear all of what Don said in response to this question. 

Much was said about infrastructure needs and how software supported the advancement of space infrastructure.  In addition, we learned that the controller needed had to control different instruments, platforms, and types of robots at the same time.  For example, in some of the u/w off shore oil work they do, there are more than 14 different types of robots being used for various functions, all needing control pretty much at the same time. 

I asked our guest about his business to business competition.  He had interesting things to say about the different types of competition.  For example, regarding structural development he said the US was very strong but with hardware Japan and others have outpaced us in many ways.  As for his company, he said they do very specialized work with specialized products so they don't see much direct competition.  He included commentary about bias with vertical integration with large companies.  Don't miss this part of the discussion as it may have a potential impact on the giant space entrepreneurs as we move forward.  

We fielded many listener emails during the show.  Ralph asked about his work on the lunar Gateway but our guest said they were not yet involved with it. He repeated his involvement with software for the Maxar lunar lander arm.  Another listener wanted to know how we were doing with space habs for humans and space hotels. He said we were not there yet, we had more progress to make before those structures would be ready for prime time.  Another field that came up as we were nearing the end of the program was satellite servicing.  As you will hear, this industry is absolutely ripe, ready to go for Olis software.  The risk of government regulation was brought up by another listener.  Don had much to say about regulation, some of which he believed to be essential.  In the end, he did not see excessive government regulation as a challenging issue but instead it may be an enabler of industry.  Listen why that may be so.  Job displacement due to AI and robotics came up regarding his work in the space industry, then in the subsea oil and gas industry.  Do not miss what he said about job displacement both for the space industry and the u/w off shore oil and gas industry.  Hint:  He did not see it as a big problem or challenge.

As we were nearing the end of the program, listener Melinda asked him what he saw five years down the road for AI and robotics in space, Earth to Moon and Earth to Mars.  He was very bullish but don't miss his hearing about his glimpse of the future.  I asked him if he thought we were moving toward a Star Trek Voyager robotic and super advanced AI holographic doctor for human spaceflight.  He said no but listen to all of his commentary regarding that question.  In concluding, he said it was a very exciting time with investment excitement too. 

Please post your comments/questions on TSS blog for this show. You can reach Don Pickering through me or the Olis website, www.olisrobotics.com

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Advanced AI and Robotics, especially for space

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