The ability to control robots from a distant location could be crucial in building new worlds in space and scientists appear to be making a progress in this area after an astronaut successfully controlled a robot on Earth with remarkable precision while on board the International Space Station (ISS).
The technology called teleoperation was developed so astronauts could repair damaged equipment from long distances or build habitats on the surface of planet Mars that NASA is already preparing for.
On Monday,Sept. 7, Danish astronaut Andreas Mogensen of the European Space Agency (ESA) controlled a rover located at ESA's technical center in the Netherlands while onboard the orbiting laboratory placing a rounded peg into a hole using the robot's arm.
The Earthbound Interact Centaur rover has a pair of arms intended for delicate and high-precision jobs. The blue and white robot made of fiberglass also has a camera on its head which makes it possible for the controller to directly see the tasks the robot performs albeit "touch" appears more crucial in this type of technology.
Through a feedback system, Mogensen was able to "feel" what he was doing on Earth despite that he was onboard the ISS, which orbits hundreds of kilometers above Earth.
Mogensen had to operate the robot's arm from space in an operation that involved placing a metal pin into a small hole in a task board with less than a sixth of a millimeter tolerance, a precision that required tactile feedback that was developed for fine robotic control over long distances.
The astronaut was able to feel the objects he was touching regardless that the signals travelled a distance of about 144,000 km.or 8,9478 miles When the pin was not correctly aligned, Mogensen could feel it hit the side of hole through the joystick that he operates at the space station. Mogensen eventually managed to drop the pin successfully into place.
Experts believe that this kind of tactile technology, which allows humans to control robots to do delicate tasks by feeling their way, has huge applications. ESA's Telerobotics and Haptics Laboratory head Andre Schiele, for instance, said that the technology will make it possible for people to project human-like presence into robots so these could do human-like tasks.
The technology also has potential applications on Earth. It can also be used to accomplish dangerous tasks that humans would be endangered to do.