First robotic force-feedback experiment in Space ever
Today, at 09:30 CET Barry Wilmore conducted the first ever force-feedback experiment in space, on-board the International Space Station.
Our Haptics-1 hardware was installed and operated successfully to conduct the first experiment runs to measure human performance metrics in microgravity and to perform force feedback tests in micro-gravity. Our first in a series of scientific technology demonstration experiments has been designed, developed and implemented entirely by our laboratory, with the goal to set a new milestone for space robotics.
It is now the first time that robotic force reflection technology has been used in space. This technology will help astronauts to control robots over great distances in an intuitive way. Haptics allows them to perform complex, human-controlled tasks in places that humans can’t 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 carrying out human-like operations means that costly and dangerous atmospheric entry and return can be avoided.
We are investigating in great detail the limits of human perception and ability of astronauts to apply fine forces and manipulations with their limbs and hands in a
weightless environment. This allows us to understand the technology
boundaries for advanced robotic equipment to support human astronauts in
space when performing remote robotic control tasks. 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 kilometres or miles away, yet perform tasks as complex as a human operator could with objects at hand.
Before today, neither the ESA nor NASA nor any other space fairing nation have gained
detailed experiences in this domain.
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 uses revolutionary technology such as the RTI DDS Connext
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 run’s 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.