25. November 2019
ISS Analog-1 experiment

An astronaut controls a rover on Earth

METERON-Experiment
METERON-Experiment
Image 1/2, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

METERON-Experiment

In this image, the European Space Agency (ESA) Analog-1 ‘Interact’ rover is being remotely controlled from the International Space Station (ISS), which is orbiting Earth at a speed of approximately 28,800 kilometres per hour. DLR has developed a new type of control technology that allows astronauts to sense the forces being exerted by the rover with an average time delay of 800 milliseconds. This force feedback is designed to ensure the safety of the interactions between the robot and its environment. The robot is being controlled by ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano.

Analog-1-Interact Rover
Analog-1-Interact Rover der ESA
Image 2/2, Credit: ©ESA

Analog-1-Interact Rover der ESA

METERON (Multi-Purpose End-To-End Robotic Operation Network) is a series of experiments designed to validate advanced technologies for telemanipulation of robots from space. Several robots on Earth, including Rollin’ Justin (DLR), have been controlled from the interior of the International Space Station (ISS) with haptic feedback or semi-autonomously.

Focus: Space, Robotics

The ISS telerobotics experiment Analog-1 was conducted on 25 November 2019, using DLR robotics technology. Astronaut Luca Parmitano controlled the European Space Agency (ESA) ‘Interact’ rover from the International Space Station (ISS). The rover was located on a test site in Valkenburg, the Netherlands, which is representative of the lunar surface. During the experiment, Parmitano successfully collected rock samples using a robotic arm. This is the first time that such a complex robot has been remotely controlled from space with force feedback. The teleoperation control system was developed at the DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics.

Parmitano had already tested the remote operation of the rover and robotic arm during his ‘test run’ on 18 November. The experiment allows a human being to control a robot on Earth from the ISS, while also being able to perceive the forces experienced by the robot.

The force feedback enables the astronaut to control the interaction forces exerted by the robot intuitively and thus carry out intricate or delicate tasks. DLR researcher Harsimran Singh explains: “DLR’s control system design ensures that the robot cannot apply any forces to its environment without the astronaut sensing them. This is critical to ensure the safety of the interactions between the robot and its environment – particularly when there is a significant time delay.”

Teleoperation technology is already complex on Earth, but in space it presents additional challenges, as DLR researcher Michael Panzirsch explains: “For one thing, the force feedback is impaired by high yet variable time delays – an average of 800 milliseconds, with outliers of up to three seconds, together with possible data packet losses and even communications interruptions. In addition, the astronaut is in microgravity, which can be detrimental to the sensorimotor system and potentially make teleoperation more difficult.”

The Analog-1 is the final part of the METERON (Multi-Purpose End-To-End Robotic Operation Network) suite of experiments, which have been investigating how intelligent robots can be controlled on planetary surfaces by astronauts in orbit, among other things.

Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

Back in 2017 and 2018, astronauts including Alexander Gerst controlled the humanoid robot Justin from the ISS while it worked in the DLR robotics laboratory. If, in the future, semi-autonomous robots are to explore the Moon or Mars, or set up and maintain infrastructure there, astronauts could operate them from an orbiting space station.

“This type of experiment might seem simple, but its technical complexity – due to the interaction between the robot and a human under space station conditions – is such that many experts need to work together,” says Thomas Krüger, Team Lead at ESA’s Human-Robot Interaction Laboratory. “We are very happy to be collaborating with DLR and hope to continue to work together in future and on other missions.”

Contact
  • Bernadette Jung
    Kommunikation Oberpfaffenhofen, Weilheim, Augsburg
    Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR)

    Politikbeziehungen und Kommunikation
    Telephone: +49 8153 28-2251
    Fax: +49 8153 28-1243
    Münchener Straße  20
    82234 Weßling
    Contact
  • Lioba Suchenwirth
    Institutsbeauftragte für Presse- und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit
    Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR)
    Institut für Robotik und Mechatronik
    Telephone: +49 8153 28-4292
    Münchener Straße 20
    82234  Oberpfaffenhofen-Weßling
    Contact
  • Dr. Michael Panzirsch
    Analyse und Regelung komplexer Robotersysteme
    Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR)
    Institut für Robotik und Mechatronik
    Telephone: +49 8153 28-3126
    Münchener Straße 20
    82234  Oberpfaffenhofen-Weßling
    Contact
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