German astronaut controls partially autonomous robot from space

Source: Xinhua| 2018-08-18 01:32:06|Editor: yan
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BERLIN, Aug. 17 (Xinhua) -- The German astronaut Alexander Gerst remote controlled a semi-autonomous robot on earth as a part of a project by the European Space Agency (ESA).

The mission was presented at a robotics facility of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) during a training session that Gerst completed on Friday.

During the test, the humanoid robot was placed in a simulated Mars environment at DLR's Robotics and Mechatronics Centre in the German city of Oberpfaffenhofen while Gerst commanded it via tablet computer from the orbiting ISS at an altitude of 400 km.

In the process, the robot had to plug and unplug cables, open transport boxes and inspect components without the German astronaut dictating the required movements. The robot called Rollin' Justin is a modular autonomous robot that can execute individual commands independently.

Alexander Gerst had to perform complex telerobotic tasks in space, but also had to react to unexpected situations. "The idea is to test whether robots will be able to assist astronauts properly in future space missions," explained DLR representative Lioba Suchenwirth. Also, Rollin' Justin was given a wider range of possible actions than in previous experiments.

DLR is confident that the project will be of great importance to European space travel in the long term. "[Rollin'] Justin is a technology carrier. Individual elements of this technology will be used in space over the next few years," Markus Grebenstein, head of department at DLR, told Xinhua on Friday.

But the technology has different applications as well. In May, the DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics presented its SMiLE project, which develops robots similar to Rollin' Justin that support the care of people of old age or with physical impairments.

This test run was DLR's third and last experiment of the METERON (Multi-Purpose End-to-End Robotic Operation Network) SUPVIS-Justin-Project in which robots stationed on the earth's surface are controlled by astronauts on board the ISS. According to Suchenwirth, this was by far the most complex experiment in this series regarding autonomy.

In 2015, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko had first steered a robot named ROKVISS stationed on earth from space. The first remote control of Rollin' Justin was later performed by the Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli on Aug. 25, 2017.