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
Supersonic waves may help electronics beat the heat
18.05.2018 | DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Researchers control the properties of graphene transistors using pressure
17.05.2018 | Columbia University
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...
A team led by Austrian experimental physicist Rainer Blatt has succeeded in characterizing the quantum entanglement of two spatially separated atoms by observing their light emission. This fundamental demonstration could lead to the development of highly sensitive optical gradiometers for the precise measurement of the gravitational field or the earth's magnetic field.
The age of quantum technology has long been heralded. Decades of research into the quantum world have led to the development of methods that make it possible...
Cardiovascular tissue engineering aims to treat heart disease with prostheses that grow and regenerate. Now, researchers from the University of Zurich, the Technical University Eindhoven and the Charité Berlin have successfully implanted regenerative heart valves, designed with the aid of computer simulations, into sheep for the first time.
Producing living tissue or organs based on human cells is one of the main research fields in regenerative medicine. Tissue engineering, which involves growing...
A team of scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg investigated optically-induced superconductivity in the alkali-doped fulleride K3C60under high external pressures. This study allowed, on one hand, to uniquely assess the nature of the transient state as a superconducting phase. In addition, it unveiled the possibility to induce superconductivity in K3C60 at temperatures far above the -170 degrees Celsius hypothesized previously, and rather all the way to room temperature. The paper by Cantaluppi et al has been published in Nature Physics.
Unlike ordinary metals, superconductors have the unique capability of transporting electrical currents without any loss. Nowadays, their technological...
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
18.05.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
18.05.2018 | Information Technology
18.05.2018 | Information Technology