Feeds

New plan: Send humans into space, keep the robots on Earth

Usual space exploration model topsy-turvinated by ESA

High performance access to file storage

Barring certain exceptions, as everyone knows, the usual way for humanity to explore other planets or astronomical bodies is that we send out sophisticated robots to have a look round, controlled by teams of humans here on Earth.

The mobile robotic system Justin, developed at the German Aerospace Center. Credit: DLR

Vorsprung durch Robotertechnik

But that's boring, according to bigwigs at the European Space Agency (ESA). Just for a change of pace, they've decided to send the humans into space and keep the robots here on Earth: but the humans will still control the robots, not the other way round.

Sadly this doesn't herald the first manned interplanetary mission. It remains the case that the only space destination for humans in the near future will be the International Space Station (ISS). Under ESA plans announced yesterday, astronauts in the station's Columbus laboratory podule will use a variety of innovative interfaces to control a range of robots down here on Earth's surface.

ESA astronaut Christer Fuglesang works with Exoskeleton in the robotics lab at ESTEC. Credit: ESA/J van Haarlem

I know, let's build this rig into the robot!

Apparently the novel topsy-turvination of the usual model of space exploration results from a consultation exercise in which the ESA invited submissions on using the station and its crew to conduct experiments. Many ideas involving control of ground robots from space were sent in.

“The multitude of submissions shows the strength of the idea,” comments Philippe Schoonejans, ESA robotics honcho.

One cunning plan would see an orbiting astronaut use an "exoskeleton" rig to make a humanoid "android" dubbed "Justin" conform to the human controller's movements. Earlier experiments will see a more basic rover-type droid in remote space station telepresence action. The underlying metwork and protocol project has been dubbed Meteron (Multi-purpose End-To-End Robotic Operations Network).

The idea of humans in space controlling robots on Earth may seem to make a mockery of manned space exploration, but in fact – assuming that people ever do travel beyond low Earth orbit – they will probably make a lot of use of robotics despite the fact that they are at or near the places they want to explore. Operations by the Space Shuttle and the ISS have been made much easier by the powerful robot arms fitted to both, and by the presence of such machinery as the station's DEXTRE robot.

Humans exploring the Moon or Mars from orbit (or from bases or colonies protected from deadly space radiation and the hostile local environment) would not necessarily be redundant: their presence would avoid delays caused by the serious comms latency resulting from astronomical distances. But the explorers might often choose, rather than suiting up and doing a job themselves, to send in the robots despite being nearby themselves.

There's more on Meteron from the ESA here. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
IBM Hursley Park: Where Big Blue buries the past, polishes family jewels
How the internet of things has deep roots in the English countryside
Video games make you NASTY AND VIOLENT
Especially if you are bad at them and keep losing
Russian deputy PM: 'We are coming to the Moon FOREVER'
Plans to annex Earth's satellite with permanent base by 2030
Solar-powered aircraft unveiled for round-the-world flight
It's going to be a slow and sleepy flight for the pilots
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Honeybee boffin STINGS OWN WEDDING TACKLE... for SCIENCE
Not the worst place to be stung, says one man
India's GPS alternative launches second satellite
Closed satnav system due to have all seven birds aloft by 2016
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.