NASA woke up a robot 'Queen' on the ISS, and it's there to help

It might be a cube, but it's no Borg.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
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NASA astronaut Meghan McArthur poses with the three Astrobee robots on the ISS. The blue one is Bumble, the green one is Queen and the yellow one is Honey.

NASA/Shane Kimbrough

Have we learned nothing from Star Trek? After all the trouble the alien Borg collective caused Captain Picard and his crew, you might think NASA would shy away from "queen" and "hive" nomenclature when it comes to real-life robots . Well, a "Queen" robot is now awake on the International Space Station and it's part of a "hive."

But not to fear, the ISS robot collective consists of three cube-shaped (for realsies) floating robots that just want to help humans conduct research and experiments up in orbit.

Two of the Astrobee robots -- the adorably named Honey and Bumble -- were already active. On Tuesday, NASA announced that astronaut Shane Kimbrough unpacked and conducted health checks on Queen, the last member of the trio, last month. 

"This was the first time Queen 'woke up' in orbit after journeying to the space-based laboratory in 2019. How did it go? Absolutely perfect. Yass, queen!" NASA said in a statement. A ground-based team will put Queen through its paces to make sure it's working properly and can find its way around the station on its own.  

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The robots use electric fans, cameras and sensors to move around and orient themselves in microgravity. They can take themselves to a docking station to recharge when needed. The hive-minded Astrobees can work together to handle chores like moving cargo. They can also use their cameras to document the work done by astronauts.

The Astrobees' flexibility means they can carry out their own experiments and be directed by researchers back on Earth. In the future, robots like this could take care of monitoring and maintaining spacecraft or space station systems when astronauts are busy or away. Perhaps best of all, they have no interest in assimilating humans into their hive.