Robotics is a rapidly growing field which has played an important role in space work activities. A typical robot device consists of a manipulator (arm), end effectors (hands), a controller, actuators (power suppliers) and a possible array of sensors to provide environmental feedback.
The space shuttle makes use of a Remote Manipulator System (RMS) which resembles the human arm. It has six degrees of freedom (DOF) or independently operated joints. The shoulder has a pitch joint (up and down) and a yaw joint (left and right). The elbow has a pitch joint and the wrist has a pitch, yaw and roll action (rotation). The RMS has two closed circuit television cameras, one on the wrist and one on the elbow to enable the astronaut on the flight deck of the orbiter to see how the arm is moving. The end effectors have a three wire snare to grasp a grapple fixture which is part of every payload. The arm can be operated in several modes from fully manual to fully automatic.
Other robotic devices have been sent to Mars and Venus to study soil samples. After the spacecraft lands, an arm is unreeled from the spacecraft and digs a small trench. The soil is scooped up and dropped in a funnel on the top of the craft. The soil is passed through a screen and sent to a highly sophisticated laboratory in the craft to have the soil analysed by sensors and the data sent back to Earth.
A benefit of improved robotic has been the development of artificial limbs for handicapped children. This limb can simulate the missing portion of the child's arm and hand. The hand has two working fingers (effectors) and a working thumb which enables the handicapped child to function in a normal manner.