Another idea is now getting attention: Send robots to the rescue and give them a little long-distance human help. Johns Hopkins scientists say the same technology that allows doctors to steer a machine through delicate abdominal surgery could someday help an operator on Earth fix a faulty fuel line on the far side of the moon.
A brief preview of this technology was presented Nov. 29, when two graduate students at Johns Hopkins’ Homewood campus in Baltimore used a modified da Vinci medical console to manipulate an industrial robot at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., about 30 miles away. The demonstration took place during a tour of Goddard by three members of Maryland’s congressional delegation: Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Reps. Donna Edwards and Steny Hoyer.
In this demonstration, the da Vinci console was the same type that doctors use to conduct robotic surgery on cancer and cardiac patients. It included a 3D eyepiece that allowed the operator in Baltimore to see and guide the robot at Goddard. It also provided haptic, or “touch,” feedback to the operator. The goal, Johns Hopkins engineers say, is to adapt some robotic operating room strategies to help NASA to perform long-distance “surgery” on ailing satellites.
“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 who was at Goddard to help supervise the recent demonstration.
Goddard is the home of NASA’s Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office, set up in 2009 to continue NASA's 30-year legacy of satellite servicing and repair, including missions to the Hubble Space Telescope. Its aims are to develop new ways to service satellites and to promote the development of a U.S. industry for conducting such operations.
To move toward these goals, NASA provided a research grant to West Virginia University, which picked Johns Hopkins as a partner because of the school’s expertise in medical robotics. One task the team has worked on is the use of a remote-controlled robot to carefully cut the plastic tape that holds a satellite’s thermal insulation blanket in place. The tape must be cut and the blanket pulled back in order to expose the satellite’s refueling port. A long-distance test of this procedure, in which an operator at Johns Hopkins will guide a robot through a tape-cutting procedure in West Virginia, is slated to take place soon
The task will be much more challenging when the target satellite is in orbit around the moon, for example. Because of the distance, there will be a significant delay between the time the operator signals the robot to move and the time these instructions are received and carried out. The research team is working on technology to help compensate for this delay.
At Johns Hopkins, the project has provided an exciting hands-on research opportunity for Jonathan Bohren, of Westchester County, N.Y., a doctoral student in mechanical engineering, and Tian Xia, of Richland, Wash., a computer science doctoral student. In the recent demonstration at Goddard, Bohren and Xia controlled the robot from a workstation at Johns Hopkins.
“The long-range goal is to be able to manipulate a space robot like this from any location to refuel satellites, for instance,” Bohren said. “A lot of satellites have the potential to have their lives extended if we can do that.”
Some satellites cost millions or even billions of dollars to construct and launch. If a cost-effective robotic rescue is possible, Xia said, then abandoning spent satellites would be wasteful.
“It would be like driving a fancy car and then ditching it after it runs out of fuel,” he said. “We already have a lot of computer-assisted surgical technology here at Johns Hopkins. We could use some of it to help fix and refuel satellites.”
The principal investigator of the satellite project at Johns Hopkins is Peter Kazanzides, an associate research professor in the Department of Computer Science in the university’s Whiting School of Engineering. Kazanzides also directs the school’s Sensing, Manipulation, and Real-Time Systems (SMARTS) lab.
Color digital image of the robotic demonstration available; contact Phil Sneiderman.Related Links:
Phil Sneiderman | Newswise Science News
Robot on demand: Mobile machining of aircraft components with high precision
06.12.2016 | Fraunhofer IFAM
IHP presents the fastest silicon-based transistor in the world
05.12.2016 | IHP - Leibniz-Institut für innovative Mikroelektronik
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
06.12.2016 | Materials Sciences
06.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
06.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering