ESA Telerobotics Laboratory Performs 1st Ever Robotic Experiment With Force-Feedback in Space

Real-Time Innovations (RTI), the real-time Industrial Internet of Things communications platform company, and the European Space Agency (ESA) today announced the first ever measurement of force-feedback in Space. NASA Astronaut Berry Wilmore conducted the Haptics-1 experiment on-board the International Space Station. The scientific technology demonstration experiment was conceived, designed, developed and implemented by the European Space Agency Telerobotics and Haptics Laboratory and sets a new technology milestone for space robotics. It marks the first time that robotic force reflection technology has been used in space. The results and measurements from this experiment will help future space missions control robots over great distances in an intuitive way, allowing them to perform complex, human-controlled tasks in places where humans have no access.

This first proof of Haptic technology in space will enable man-in-the-loop control of advanced robotic systems on planetary surfaces while the astronaut remains in a safe orbit. On Mars, for example, having dexterous robots on the surface conducting human-like operations mean that costly and dangerous atmospheric entry and return can be avoided completely for many tasks.

"With Haptics-1 we are paving the way towards an entirely new type of combined human-robotic mission," says Dr. Andre Schiele, the principal investigator of the experiment and founder of the ESA Telerobotics & Haptics Laboratory. "We are investigating in great detail the limits of human perception and the ability of robotics to apply fine forces and manipulations in a weightless environment. This experiment allows us to understand the technology boundaries for advanced robotic equipment to support human astronauts in space. With Haptics-1, this type of science and technology experiment is taking place for the first time in space."

Before today neither the ESA, NASA nor any other space-fairing nation have gained detailed experience in this domain. In addition to measuring physiological parameters, Haptics-1 provides important insights on how force-reflection from a remote robotic system changes human perception in space. With these measurements, advanced robotic control equipment can be designed to better reflect the realities of human manipulation through a robotic interface in a weightless environment. This will enable more natural interaction with remote robots and lead to significantly more efficient remote operations and mission designs. Robots could be located thousands or tens of thousands of kilometers away, yet perform tasks as complex as a human operator could with objects in hand.

The relevance of such advanced robotic remote control for applications on Earth is apparent with the need to intervene at sites inaccessible or dangerous to humans, such as in deep waters or in contaminated areas.

Haptics-1 requires advanced technology including the RTI Connext® DDS communications platform to handle advanced messaging between different robotic devices across a DIL (Disconnected Intermittent and Lossy) link, such as space presents. All displays that guide the astronaut crew through the experiments are fully automated within a robotics app that runs on a Dell Latitude 10 tablet PC. This type of experiment implementation is progressive and defines an improved approach for more efficient experiment execution on-board the International Space Station.

Source: Real-Time Innovations (RTI)
Date: Dec 31, 2014