Motiv: Rapid Development of Space Robotics with MoveIt Pro

"MoveIt Pro has enabled our team to rapidly prototype manipulation demonstrations using our space-rated robotic arms, and has been valuable for exploring operations concepts for future space missions."

Eddie Tunstel, CTO Motiv Space Systems


Motiv Space Systems is a leading company focused on developing versatile robot arms and other space-rated hardware for space missions. Motiv’s significant flight hardware heritage includes the robotic arm on the NASA Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover. Motiv’s success comes from its commitment to innovation and excellence and its team of skilled engineers and scientists who bring a wealth of expertise in cutting-edge space robotics and motion control.


For Motiv’s past programs, customers applying Motiv’s robot arms used mission-specific software stacks - a common approach across space applications. But for the future, Motiv desired a reusable, modular robotic control software stack with advanced capabilities, including:

  • motion planning tasks, such as trajectory planning and obstacle avoidance
  • camera integration for visual feedback during operation
  • end effector motion capabilities for specific tasks, such as capture/grappling maneuvers for satellite servicing and on-orbit assembly and manufacturing
  • rapid prototyping and development of space-application relevant objectives to keep pace with the constantly evolving needs of the space industry

Another challenge Motiv faced was the time it typically takes to develop or integrate sophisticated capabilities with a new robot arm. Given the ambitious goals of their space exploration missions, Motiv needed to be able to demonstrate the full range of capabilities of their robot arms in a more time-efficient manner. They wanted something that was easy to use and that offered visually appealing displays for demo videos and live demonstrations in order to showcase the potential of the technology to potential partners.

Motiv was working on developing modular robot arms of different configurations and for different applications. They needed a partner who could work with them side-by-side to create software solutions that could adapt to and complement the range of capabilities of their various robot configurations. Enter PickNik and our intuitive software platform, MoveIt Pro.


MoveIt Pro is a powerful toolset for robot arm development, allowing users to create and test motion plans and trajectories quickly and easily. This integration allowed Motiv to rapidly prototype and develop demonstrations of their robot arm capabilities, which will enable them to quickly explore robot operations concepts that meet the evolving needs of the fast-moving space industry.

Another critical aspect of PickNik’ssolution for Motiv was the Supervised Autonomy feature set of MoveIt Pro. This feature allowed Motiv to display and showcase their robot arm in a visually appealing and highly informative way. By leveraging this feature set, Motiv can create impressive demonstrations that showcase their robot arm’s full range of capabilities, helping them to attract potential customers and partners.

Finally, PickNik also leveraged the behavior tree capabilities of MoveIt Pro to continue to expand the arm’s portfolio of advanced behaviors. Building on this foundation, Motiv can rapidly develop and deploy new capabilities to ensure that it remains at the forefront of viable space robotics technology. Thanks to these solutions, Motiv overcame challenges and achieved their goals in a timely and efficient manner.


The collaboration between Motiv Space Systems and PickNik Robotics resulted in several positive outcomes for both companies:

  • successful integration of the Motiv xLink™ robot arm with MoveIt Pro, which allowed Motiv to rapidly prototype demonstrations and enables new capability development for xLink applications
  • use of built-in MoveIt Pro objectives, enabling Motiv to quickly and easily create and test new motion plans and trajectories
  • verification of Cartesian end-point control for the xLink arm, including visual servoing behaviors using an Apriltag fiducial marker and wrist-mounted camera feedback
  • execution of objectives that require xLink’s integrated force-torque sensor measurements, such as pushing a button or closing a hatch door

All of these capabilities are essential for successfully deploying the xLink arm in a range of robotic in-space servicing, assembly, and manufacturing applications.

Motiv’s engineers were pleased with the outcome of the collaboration, as they appreciated having an intuitive console to run objectives, reset the arm, adjust parameters, and retry an objective from a single user interface. This workflow is a significant improvement over most ROS and custom software applications they had worked with previously, which required complex configurations and multiple interfaces to achieve similar results.

Finally, once the arm was integrated, PickNik Robotics was able to build robot arm behaviors for the xLink arm quickly using behavior trees. This positions Motiv to rapidly expand the capabilities of their robot arm and continue to innovate in the space robotics industry. Overall, the collaboration between Motiv and PickNik succeeded, resulting in a highly capable software suite for a space-rated robot arm that can perform a range of tasks in challenging space environments.