A modified Da Vinci surgical robot is helping NASA study how robots can refuel and service space satellites, remotely controlled from Earth. The agency's Notional Robotic Servicing Mission is looking for ways that fully robotic spacecraft can perform servicing of GEO (geosynchronous earth orbit) satellites in space, avoiding the cost and danger of sending astronauts to do the same job.
In a recent demonstration, engineering and computer science graduate students at Johns Hopkins University's campus in Baltimore modified a Da Vinci surgical robot console and used it and a workstation to control an industrial robot at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center 30 miles away. The modified surgical robot also included a 3D eyepiece, which allowed the Baltimore operator to guide the remote industrial robot. The Da Vinci robot's 3D HD vision system gives operators 3D high-definition video displays for accurate depth perception, as well as an immersive experience that feels as if the robot is a virtual extension of the operator's body.
The Dextre robot in NASA's predecessor Robotic Refueling Mission transfers and installs the tools module onto its permanent home on the International Space Station. (Source: NASA)
The goal of the research is to adapt strategies used in robotic operating rooms to the tasks needed to repair and service broken satellites and other in-orbit space hardware. Repairing a satellite fuel line, for example, includes complex and delicate tasks that are not that different from the complex tasks a surgeon must perform when guiding a robot through delicate abdominal surgery. "We’re using the expertise we’ve developed in medical robotics technology and applying it to some of the remote-controlled tasks that NASA wants space robots to perform in repairing and refueling satellites," said Louis Whitcomb, a Johns Hopkins mechanical engineering professor, in a press release. Whitcomb helped supervise the Goddard Space Flight Center end of the demonstration.
The John Hopkins engineers' work was done in cooperation with West Virginia University, and funded by a research grant from NASA. John Hopkins' Sensing, Manipulation, and Real-Time System (SMART) lab has done extensive research on components and integrated systems required for computer-assisted surgery. Researchers have explored the integration of real-time imaging, such as video and ultrasound, for robotic assistance in applications such as microsurgery. Component technology research includes high-performance motor control, electromagnetic and inertial sensing, and sensor fusion.
@sensorpro: I definitely agree with you about spending cuts. But NASA actually has quite a few interesting missions going on, even if nobody seems to be paying much attention to them in the news. The Curiosity rover, which is scheduled to land on Mars this summer, is one of them. And if you read NASA Tech Briefs, you can see that NASA is continuing to make numerous technological advances, to say nothing of the tremendous amount of scientific data which NASA missions generate. No other country is doing anything like this.
I agree that they still do some development, but....
My firm worked with NASA on a few nice projects in the past. One was Camera orientation for the two Mars Rowers. Another one was some special sensors on the fuel tanks for each shuttle, etc...
I see a serious change in the negative direction. It is a shame that we waste so much money on "garbage" and do not invest what we should in the technological future. We have so much tallant. It is a shame. This is all i wanted to say.
Thanks, Chuck this was a fun one. Re funding, like me, you may remember the Cold War/Sputnik days when it was the mil/aero sector that developed all the high-end new electronics and other "high" tech which then moved down to the commercial sector, as there was not yet a huge consumer electronics sector. Those days are long gone. Now the moneyed sectors seem to be consumer and medical.
When I was a young engineer for RCA in the early '70s, my boss consulted with NASA regarding the early ideas for what became the Shuttle. He said that they were looking to use COTS as much as possible to keep the cost down -- make it a "space truck." There was a big conflict with making everything "space rated" (i.e., demonstrably very reliable under all possible conditions to assure human safety) and leveraging the considerable cost savings of COTS devices, especially for "non-essential" systems, such as the radios and TV cameras that our RCA division made. Space-rating won out, and for good reasons. But it still makes sense to adapt some things like the DaVinci surgical robot (an awesome piece of technology) for mission-specific applications.
The ISI DaVinci robot is primarily a tele-presence system, which is the sort of thing that will be needed more and more to extend human hands into remote and dangerous places. NASA is our way into those places, at least if it's allowed (and funded) to do its job.
I agree, Beth. This is a great use for robotic capabilities. As well as saving on expense, I would guess it's far quicker to send a machine to do the repair rather than scheduling a human to do the job. As for humans in space, I think humans should take the risk for loftier missions than repair jobs.
I have said for years that the reason satellites work so well is that techs can not touch them. No tweaking, no adjustments, no hands on work. We start sending remote control techs into space we will once again have stuff broken high in the sky. My old credo: Design it right the first time and you don't need techies mucking in the equipment breaking things. My designs normally never include relays, switches, pots. electrolytic caps, or buttons and I grew up around such things. They do include a smattering of test points or muxes to remotes to prevent anyone from shorting out pins. Currently I manage a group of techies and yes, they still are the major cause of equipment damage.
AJ2X, that's interesting input about NASA and COTS way back in the 70s. To clarify, the robot missions are for refueling and servicing once something has broken. I would think that, considering how much it costs to send either robots or humans out in space, the problems Island Al describes would be less likely to occur.
Island Al, the solar arrays on the space station were designed for automatic extension and furling. Yet one of them broke during the process. The repairs executed by humans on STS120 to fix it could not have been done easily by robots. I'm hesitant to say never be done by robots.
Humans fixed it, with on-hand materials, in just a couple of hours.
The rotary joints for the solar arrays also needed repairs. Humans fixed it; a robotic repair probably could not have executed it
I'l give you the rebuttals to these human successes; when a tool bag containing grease guns for that same joint repair got away from an astronaut on STS126. Or on Apollo 16, where an astronaut's foot got caught in a cable, yanking it out at the connector and thus ruining an extrodinarily expensive experiment.
Humans can pull success from the jaws of utter defeat, and can cost incalculable damage from a simple pratfall. Overall, the successes outweigh the oops in space. I'll take a human over robot any day.
That is an interesting assertion about the "techies" being the source of most damage. MY guess is that those who are guilty are both overpaid and underqualified. Repairs should really be handled by a "rocket scientist" because at that distance it really is "rocket science". What I mean is that just like in the early days of our space programs, those folks sitting at the consoles in mission control knew and understood every single bit of their system. Every bit of it was in their head, so they would instantly be able to understand a problem. That is one huge difference from those who are mostly qualified to fix car stereos.
The problem that I do see as very big with robot repair workers is the lack of strength and compliance. The robot would need to have the correct wrench, an astronaut could use a channel-locks wrench and handle a fitting that was a bit off centered. ON the other hand, it certainly should be possible to create a robot that could do most repairs. OF course, it will be bigger and stronger than a minimum capabilities package, and cost a bit more as well.
It's relevant to note that repairs in space often cost more (or cost a high percentage) of the original cost of the equipment). Think Hubble Space Telescope, though the scope of the original error (a bad mirror) makes this an outlier. Anyway, this means design for repairability or redundancy is or should be a requirement for space, except there's the factor that weight reduction is a higher priority and designing for redundancy by definition adds weight. So it's an insoluable technical tautology, at least in a lingustic sense. (The robot discussed in this story do provide something of a solution, a la both the COTS cost savings I commented on earlier and the lessening of the requirement for human intervention.
In an age of globalization and rapid changes through scientific progress, two of our societies' (and economies') main concerns are to satisfy the needs and wishes of the individual and to save precious resources. Cloud computing caters to both of these.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.