Astronaut Tim Peake controlled a robot from the International Space Station (ISS). However, the robot wasn’t in space, but was located on Earth. The experiment was meant to prepare astronauts and technicians for future human-robotic missions to the Moon, Mars, and other celestial bodies.
As part of a unique experiment, astronaut Tim Peake successfully maneuvered a robot located on Earth from the ISS. The British astronaut took control from the Earth-based team and steered the robot on a simulated Martian landscape. The experiment took place at Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage, dubbed “Mars Yard.”
The experiment, titled “Supervisory Control of Mars Yard Rover” or SUPVIS-M for short, was designed to one day allow humans, more specifically astronauts, sitting on board ISS or other deep space vehicles, to reliably control robots or machines over vast distances. The experiment is part of Europe’s METERON (Multipurpose End-To-end Robotics Operations Network) project. The overall idea is develop and optimize tasks and directional control.
The link between the man and robots, as well as the ancillary processes, need to be reliably strong and accurate. The project will also help researchers decipher which tasks are robotic and which are human. Other aspects include finding what data is needed to support the monitoring and control of assets, like vehicles and other unmanned machines on a remote planetary surface. All these components will collectively help build plans for future exploration initiatives and the design of mission systems.
While this may sound technical, many smaller exploratory missions will have to be conducted while the astronauts hover in spacecraft, hundreds of thousands of miles above a planet. Moreover, quite a few missions could be too dangerous and will need robots. Under such circumstances, such systems will come in handy for astronauts, who can control the robots over great distances.
There have been many ground-to-space missions. Multiple rovers are already roaming on Mars, and space agencies around the world are planning to send even more such exploratory machines in the near future. However, this experiment and project is the first one to successfully establish a reliable connection and achieve remote control of a rover.
But this doesn’t mean the experiment was without any hurdles or hiccups. At one point, the rover got stuck on a large rock and its signal was lost for around 10 minutes, reported Sky News.
The rover was to be controlled by Tim Peake, who is currently on board the ISS. He was supposed to remotely drive the rover on a simulated Martian environment replete with dusty surroundings. Moreover, there was an interesting twist. The terrain was divided into two regions: a well-lit environment and a much more challenging dark location. The dimly lit environment was supposed to simulate a cave or a shaded crater. The control of the rover was handed over to Peake when the rover was at the edge of the cave.
Inside the cave, Tim Peake expertly maneuvered the rover across the yard, while avoiding obstacles. He also successfully identified and reached potential science targets, which were marked with a distinctive ultraviolet fluorescent marker, reported the official website of the U.K. government.
Under Major Peake’s guidance, the British-built Rover traveled around 20 meters (65 feet) during the two-hour test. Incidentally, Peake had just 90 minutes to complete his mission. His driving skills were described as “measured” and “careful” by Dr. Elie Allouis, mission and robot engineer,
“Tim found targets, avoided obstacles – almost all of them – and returned to the entrance of the cave.”
Interestingly, the rover which Tim Peake operated is headed to Mars in 2018. Its mission is to find evidence of past or present life. One of the developments in the rover is its ability tell the difference between a shadow and a rock, something rovers still couldn’t do in dark conditions.
[Image via YouTube Video Screen Grab ]