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Robots servicing the world's largest FAST radio telescope

China has deployed intelligent robots to maintain the world's largest single-dish radio telescope, FAST. The newly approved robots will inspect cables, pulleys and sensors across the 500-meterdish to boost efficiency and uptime.

Located in Guizhou Province, FAST's immense size enables ultra-sensitive collection of cosmic radio signals. The movable triangular panels focus signals onto receivers in the suspended focal cabin 140 meters above.

FAST's main role involves researching pulsars, neutron stars and other astronomical phenomena. Initially for Chinese scientists, in 2020 it opened to researchers worldwide given immense demand. Minimizing maintenance downtime is thus critical.

The new robots will autonomously assess cabling and pulleys supporting the focal cabin. Another key task is replacing dish sensors that relay signals below. Currently, humans crawling on the reflectors damage the fragile aluminum panels.

As one engineer explained, the robots' lighter weight prevents reflector harm: "Balloons are used now to reduce worker pressure, but this is dangerous and inefficient." The bots will also automate laser target and actuator maintenance.

By taking over risky and challenging tasks, the robots will improve safety while adding an estimated 30 more observation days annually. This boosts FAST's scientific output.

The rollout highlights AI's potential for augmenting human capabilities in hazardous environments. By tirelessly handling precision reflector work, the robots transform FAST's productivity and longevity.

More broadly, the project demonstrates how human-robot collaboration can push boundaries in science and exploration. When strategically teaming their respective strengths, humans and machines can achieve feats neither could alone. FAST's robots exemplify these synergies unlocking new horizons.

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