Astronaut directs robots in an experiment between Earth and space

Isbel Lázaro.

experimento entre la Tierra y el espacio

An experiment is underway at the Mars laboratory of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) that establishes a meaningful connection between the International Space Station (ISS) and Earth. Marcus Wandt, Swedish astronaut of the European Space Agency (ESA) project, stationed in the Columbus module of the ISS, is leading the “Surface Avatar” project, an innovative initiative that stands out in the field of telerobotics.

Surface Avatar: the experiment between Earth and space

The Surface Avatar project, led by the Institute for Robotics and Mechatronics at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the German Space Operations Center (GSOC), is breaking new ground in space technology. Its main goal is to develop innovative technologies that enable astronauts to precisely control multiple robots remotely.

This experiment, based on previous tests conducted in July last year, focuses especially on understanding how delays impact robot control during space missions. This technology is crucial for future expeditions to the Moon and Mars, where intelligent, collaborative robots could significantly expand human capabilities.

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An outstanding development in this test is the inclusion of the dog-shaped DLR robot named Bert, marking a worldwide milestone in the field of telerobotics. Bert, in contrast to his wheeled counterparts, has leg-based locomotion that allows him to navigate and explore challenging terrain, such as uneven surfaces and small caves.

Marcus Wandt skillfully directed Bert through the lab environment, using the robot’s cameras to monitor the terrain. Simultaneously, he supervised the operations of two other robots: DLR’s Rollin’ Justin humanoid service robot and ESA’s Interact Rover.

Importantly, the experiment highlighted the complexities of collaboration not only between humans, but also between diverse robotic entities. In a remarkable breakthrough, the robots, led by Wandt, successfully carried out a collaborative task. Rollin’ Justin picked up and positioned a pipe using his hands, which was subsequently installed by the Interact Rover. This task, symbolizing the placement of a scientific measuring device, exemplified the potential of combining diverse robotic skills to perform complex operations.

Alin Albu-Schaffer, director of DLR’s Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics, highlighted the importance of this research and stated, “Future stations on the Moon and Mars, including astronaut habitats, will be built and maintained by robots operating under the guidance of astronauts. “Our latest control algorithms and artificial intelligence allow a single astronaut to command an entire team of different robots. Our DLR-ESA team is a world leader in this technology.“. This statement underscores the pioneering role of the DLR-ESA collaboration in the advancement of space robotics.

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