Docking, manipulating and tool change interfaces will be key components to future free-flying robot platforms in support of human exploration missions. The UDI would find extensive applications in systems designed to operate in intravehicular activities, extravehicular activities, and surface operations on Mars, the Moon, NEOs and other dusty environments. Future mission scenarios featuring flexible, modular, universal architectures for robotic manipulation, payloads, and sampling will all call for such an interface. Companion robots such as free-flying robots require ways to dock for modular assembly in free space, to manipulate assets, or to recharge. Applications for the UDI include a range of missions beyond free-flying robots that may include on-orbit satellite servicing, companion robots for the Asteroid Redirect Mission, and next-decade landed Lunar missions.
While NASA applications for this technology are the primary focus of this development effort, non-NASA applications for the UDI technology have been identified. There is a need for highly reliable robotic docking interfaces among a range of autonomous vehicles, including on-orbit servicing vehicles, ground robotics, and AUVs (i.e. drones). By designing for autonomous operations, the UDI will provide misalignment tolerance, low-force engagement, light weight, and other features suited to UGV and UAV markets. Docking and recharge using a common interface can also extend range, function, and operational availability of teleoperated or semi-autonomous robotic systems. For example, DARPA is organizing the Consortium For Execution of Rendezvous and Servicing Operations (CONFERS) to define consensus-based technical standards that will enable commercial operations. Honeybee plans to engage with industry standards developers to position the UDI as a common electromechanical interface to improve payload interoperation and functionality of future servicing robots. Non-NASA commercial applications will be examined more thoroughly during Phase 2 to provide a broader base for commercialization efforts.