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
Nano-scale process may speed arrival of cheaper hi-tech products
09.11.2018 | University of Edinburgh
Nuclear fusion: wrestling with burning questions on the control of 'burning plasmas'
25.10.2018 | Lehigh University
Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.
In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...
On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.
When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure
Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...
Physicists at ETH Zurich demonstrate how errors that occur during the manipulation of quantum system can be monitored and corrected on the fly
The field of quantum computation has seen tremendous progress in recent years. Bit by bit, quantum devices start to challenge conventional computers, at least...
Scientists developed specially coated nanometer-sized vehicles that can be actively moved through dense tissue like the vitreous of the eye. So far, the transport of nano-vehicles has only been demonstrated in model systems or biological fluids, but not in real tissue. The work was published in the journal Science Advances and constitutes one step further towards nanorobots becoming minimally-invasive tools for precisely delivering medicine to where it is needed.
Researchers of the “Micro, Nano and Molecular Systems” Lab at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, together with an international...
09.11.2018 | Event News
06.11.2018 | Event News
23.10.2018 | Event News
12.11.2018 | Life Sciences
12.11.2018 | Materials Sciences
12.11.2018 | Physics and Astronomy