Ocean Universe

ESA Developing Robots for Space Exploration

An astronaut goes on the Moon or Mars and has a small robots are very useful helpers. This scenario simulates currently the project Moonwalk. On land and under water engineers to test how humans and Rover Rick get along.

If there is mention that humans and robots together rehearsing the space usage, that inevitably comes the small R2-D2 in the sense. The droid from Star Wars was not only a skilled mechanic and Copilot, but also a brave and loyal friend. So we are not far in reality while still, but the close cooperation between humans and robots, especially between astronaut and Rover, is tested by the EU-funded project Moonwalk. Currently, the first simulation campaign takes place in desert-like landscape. Then it goes under water.

“ESA Robot Rick” is equipped with camera, GPS and position sensor to facilitate space exploration.

In the first simulation campaign, which lasts until the end of April, scientists test the collaboration between astronaut and robot in a former parent mining area day in the Spanish Río Tinto, which is similar to geochemical properties of the Martian surface. Astronaut and Rick together explore the grounds, take measurements and samples where the robot also in potentially dangerous for the human terrain to penetrate, for example in caves. In addition, he is to overcome steep slopes.

rio tinto collage
Until the end of April, scientists test the cooperation of astronaut and robot in a former parent mining area day in the Spanish Río Tinto. While the robot Rick in potentially dangerous territory must penetrate, for example caves. Photo: Liquifer

Rick, the robotic platform that innovation was developed by the Robotics Center of the DFKI Bremen, is well equipped and mobile even in difficult terrain. Between the front and rear axle, the Rover has a passive joint that allows the ground contact of all four star wheels. The Rover has also an internal GPS that can capture the absolute position of a position sensor with compass.

ESA Developing Robots for Space Exploration
Robotic Centaur can be precisely controlled TV over a distance of more than 400 kilometers. Highly sensitive sensors allow to transfer of haptic key experiences in the universe. Photo: ESA

In a second simulation campaign from 28 May to 12 June astronaut and robot in the French city of Marseille Mediterranean Bay dive, whose sea floor is similar to the texture of a lunar landscape. The underwater tests to simulate the effects of low gravity of moon missions, which could also complicate the interaction between man and machine.

The astronaut communicates through gestures with Rick

Since 2013 is the project of the European Union in the field of “space research” funded and coordinated by the German Research Center for artificial intelligence DFKI Bremen. Together with other project partners, the DFKI scientists want to explore how astronauts can be supported by robots in the exploration of planetary surfaces.

The focus is on the interaction between astronaut and robot, which is also due to reduced gravity. Astronauts are relatively immobile, it is big challenge to travel on other planet surface.

The robotic platform Rick is designed as a micro Rover, which is deeply can be used both on land and under water up to 50 m in difficult terrain. Equipped with a 360 ° camera the robot can comprehensively look at his surroundings. There is also an interface with the astronaut and robot to communicate with each other.

Photo: DFKI

It is controlled using gestures of the astronauts transferred to the robot. For this, the astronaut suit is equipped with sensors, which allow to recognize the gestures, the astronaut makes with his arms and hands.

Only in the past year, the astronauts have the ISS an attempt made to remotely control a robot. The Danish astronaut Andreas Morgensen drove on the ISS the robotic Centaur in Holland, which had to take out a small metal pin from a hole in an Arbeitsboard and later again there insert the PIN. The attempt succeeded.