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Haptic Interface Will Control Lunar Robot from Space Station


Astronaut Luca Parmitano operates a robotic avatar from the International Space Station

Astronaut Luca Parmitano operates the 'lunar rover' robot from onboard the International Space Station during the Analog-1 mission.

Credit: ESA, NASA

Astronauts in orbit could soon be using robots to explore lunar or planetary surfaces without having to expose themselves to the extraterrestrial environment. In a paper published in Open Astronomy, Kjetil Wormnes and colleagues based at the European Space Agency (ESA) present a simulated geological exploration mission in which astronauts in the International Space Station obtained direct haptic feedback from robots that they control on the ground, "feeling" objects that they manipulate. 

The Analog-1 mission described in the paper involved an astronaut on the International Space Station controlling a robot roving around an artificial lunar landscape that had been set up in an old aircraft hanger at the ESA's technology center in the Netherlands. The robot's task was to select, investigate, and store rock samples.

The experiments proved that astronaut Luca Parmitano could control the robot's arm as it moved through three translational and three rotational degrees of freedom, and that the forces it 'felt' were transmitted back to him. Through haptic feedback, Parmitano was able to sense the weight of rock samples on the ground as the robot picked them up and manipulated them.

From De Gruyter
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