Monday, March 3, 2014

ESA ATV-5 Haptics-1 experiment: Touchy-Feely Body-Mounted Joystick

Body-mounted astronaut joystick for the Haptics-1 experiment, developed by ESA's Telerobotics and Haptics Laboratory as part of the multi-agency Meteron (Multi-Purpose End-to-End Robotic Operation Network) initiative, investigating telerobotics for space. 

The Haptics-1 experiment is being flown to the ISS by ATV-5 in summer 2014. 

Credit: ESA

Stowed inside ESA’s next supply ship to the International Space Station will be one of the most advanced joysticks ever built, designed to test the remote control of robots on the ground from up in orbit.

Due to be launched this summer, the Automated Transfer Vehicle will deliver more than five tonnes of propellant, supplies and experiments to the orbital outpost.

The consignment includes the first sustained test of how astronauts experience touch-based feedback in weightlessness.

The experiment comes down to a deceptively simple-looking lever that can be moved freely to play basic Pong-style computer games.

Performance readings from these games, along with follow-up questionnaires, will analyse the effects on human motor control when exposed to long-term weightlessness, and how feedback feels in orbit.

ATV-5 logo

Behind the scenes, a complex suite of servo motors can withstand any force an astronaut operator might unleash on it, while generating forces that the astronaut will feel in turn – just like a standard video gaming joystick as a player encounters an in-game obstacle.

The difference in orbit is that, to quote Isaac Newton, ‘every action has an equal and opposite reaction’ – so to prevent the joystick’s force feedback pushing its free-floating user around it is mounted to a body harness that can be fixed in turn to standard Station equipment.

“Getting the hardware to be extremely precise yet incredibly sturdy was the project’s main challenge,” explains André Schiele, head of ESA's Telerobotics and Haptics Laboratory, overseeing the experiment.

Haptics-1 setup

“The resulting system can produce minute forces most people are not sensitive enough to feel, but astronauts could kick it and it will still work and respond correctly.”

Seven different tests are planned so far, with more in the pipeline – new tests can be uploaded easily.

A touchscreen tablet will be used to load software and conduct the experiments.

A video trailer of the proposed ESA Project METERON (Multi-Purpose End-To-End Robotic Operation Network). 

METERON is a technology demonstration experiment including the International Space Station ISS. A set of novel haptic control devices (Force-reflecting joystick, exoskeleton, 3D display) will be used by Astronauts from on-board the ISS to control robotic systems on ground. 

Technology validation will be for transparent bi-lateral telemanipulation, shared autonomous operations and autonomous operations. 

The METERON experiment will validate technology candidates for future exploration mission usage. 

METERON is an ESA-led mission proposal with intended participation by DLR, Roscosmos and NASA

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