Engineers developing a HAL 9000-type AI system for monitoring planetary base stations


A team of engineers at TRACLabs Inc. in the U.S. is making inroads toward the creation of a planetary station monitoring similar in some respects to Hal 9000—the infamous AI in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. In this case, it is called cognitive architecture for space agents (CASE) and is outlined in a Focus piece by Pete Bonasso, the primary engineer working on the project, in the journal Science Robotics.

Bonasso explains that he has had an interest in creating a real Hal 9000 ever since watching the movie as a college student—minus the killing, of course. His system is designed to run a situated on another planet, such as Mars. It is meant to take care of the more mundane, but critical tasks involved with maintaining a habitable planetary , such as maintaining oxygen levels and taking care of waste. He notes that such a system needs to know what to do and how to do it, carrying out activities using such hardware as robot arms. To that end, CASE has been designed as a three-layered system. The first is in charge of controlling hardware, such as power systems, life-, etc.

The second layer is more brainy—it is in charge of running the that controls the hardware. The third layer is even smarter, responsible for coming up with solutions to problems as they arise—if damage occurs to a module, for example, it must be sealed off from others modules as quickly as possible. The system also has what Bonasso describes as an ontological system—its job is to be self-aware so that the system can make judgment calls when comparing data from sensors with what it has learned in the past and with information received from occupants. To that end, the system will be expected to interact with those humans in ways similar to those portrayed in the movie.

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Bonasso reports that he and his team have built a virtual reality prototype of a planetary base, which CASE has thus far managed to run for up to four hours. He acknowledges that a lot more work needs to be done. Luckily, they still have a lot of time, as for human habitation of Mars and beyond are still decades away.

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