Tokyo Tech team third at Kibo Robot Programming Challenge

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Five Tokyo Tech master’s degree students competed as Team Space Lark in the international Kibo Robot Programming Challenge (Kibo-RPC) finals, where they came in third place.

Kibo-RPC is a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) international programming challenge in which contestants put their engineering talents to the test utilising Astrobee, a cube-shaped robot designed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The finalist programmes are used in the Japanese Experiment Module Kibo on the International Space Station (ISS), which orbits the Earth. Participants must write a programme to carry out missions based on NASA’s Astrobee source code, and they are graded based on mission accomplishment and elapsed time.

The key aspect of the 2022 competition was the target’s randomly changing position, which had to be lighted using Astrobee’s laser. Teams were required to direct Astrobee to complete missions quickly and improve laser irradiation accuracy by reading AR tags, locating the centre of the target using image recognition technology, and using control algorithms to move the robot to the target position and orientation.

On July 9, Team Space Lark won the domestic qualifying round in Japan, advancing to the in-orbit finals. The competing teams competed in the preliminary round utilising a simulator that properly simulates the space environment. In the finals, teams prepare programmes for the Astrobee and run them on the ISS.

Participation in Kibo-RPC is part of the Space Systems Initiative(External site), a course provided to master’s level Mechanical Engineering students at Tokyo Tech. In 2021, the team progressed, even more, finishing second in the national qualifiers. According to Tokyo Tech, using lessons from past participants’ experiences, the 2022 Tokyo Tech team spent more time preparing and won the national qualifying round. The team finished third in the global in-orbit finals by operating NASA’s Astrobee in the pressurised module of Kibo.

Team leader Haruta Miki said: “Personally, I was drawn to the idea of being able to run Astrobee on the ISS using a program I had written, so I applied for Kibo-RPC. For the domestic qualifying round, we aimed to create a program that could obtain high scores consistently by repeatedly improving the program and running simulations. In particular, we struggled to improve the irradiation accuracy for the second target because its position changed, but we achieved improvements by openly discussing issues and trying out various ideas as a team. As a result, we were able to win the qualifying round and advance to the in-orbit finals.”

“During the finals, we assumed that the simulation environment differed from that of the ISS, and while referring to the video of the in-orbit finals from last year, we modified the program so it could cope with unexpected situations. When viewing the actual motions of Astrobee in the final, we could see that the movement errors were larger than those during the simulation, which indicated that our program modifications were successful,” Haruta Miki stated.

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