ESA Telerobotics - Haptics-1

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Tonight (29.07.2014) at around 1:30 am, the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV5) will launch into orbit towards the International Space Station ISS. On-board our first in-house and custom build Haptics-1 Experiment.

Haptics-1 is the first of a series of in-flight experiments to demonstrate advanced teleoperation technologies and to demonstrate the telecontrol with real-time force-feedback of robotics on Earth from Space.

On-board ATV5 is a small pouch that carries a single degree of freedom force reflective joystic (the 1-DOF Setup). The joystick is high performance with active joint impedance control, enabled through a custom torque sensor at the joint output and driven by a highly power-dense RoboDrive ILM brushless motor. The Joystick run's internally on a 2kHz sample rate in hard real-time and can communicate with external systems at those rates all data that is acquired internally (handle position, velocity, torque, current, etc.). Internally, the Joystick uses an Intel Atom Z530 (1.6 GHz) embedded computer that communicates with the joint motor controller via real-time EtherCAT bus. The Joystick is fully self-powered and only needs 28V input from the ISS and a mechanical interface on the stations seat tracks. The output on the handle-bar can generate any position or torque to the user in a ripple-free way. As such, the joystick can render torque, stiffness and damping easily and any combination of control mode can be used at any instant in time for the various experiments. The pouch also houses a flight qualified Tablet computer (Dell Latitude 10) that run's the Haptics-1 graphical user interface (GUI). The GUI is the sole entry point for astronaut crew to load and execute experiments with the Joystick.

In the first flight experiments of Haptics-1, an extensive set of physiological data is collected that will help to determine design requirements for the design of haptic devices to be used in Space in the future. Up to now, such data is still not available ! We suspect that in micro-Gravity, the perception thresholds will change! Moreover, we are testing which way the joystick can be used in a better fashion, whether wall-mounted (as shown on picture above) or in body-mounted configuration, when the joystick is directly 'strapped' onto the crew's chest.. then providing a body-grounded force feedback..

In seven distinct scientific conduct protocols, we'll measure crew human factor data after exposure to micro-gravity for an extended duration. We measure, for instance, the bandwidth of human motion in position and force control tasks, the minimum stimulus thresholds for sensing torque and stiffness, the mass and stiffness of the upper extremity and other interesting measures that will define clearly how humans will interact naturally with force-feedback systems when exposed to the micro-gravity environment in space. This data will help us design our ISS payload exoskeleton that will go up hopefully by mid 2016.

Haptics-1 is a preparation for the Haptics-2 experiment, which is the next experiment we already started working on. Haptics-2, in 2015 will make use the 1-DOF Setup to teleoperate a 1-DOF Setup on Earth, from Space. We'll make use of a low-latency direct S-band link between Space and Ground and mark the first real teleoperation experiment conducted from Space - ever! The first haptic interaction in space will already take place this year, under Haptics-1, in October with ESA Astronaut Alexander Gerst. Alexander will be the first to install our equipment on ISS and perform a full set of the seven science protocols. 

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