ROKVISS Telepresence Robot Heading To Space Station

The ROKVISS (Robotic Components Verification on ISS) robot will be leaving Earth aboard the Progress M-51 spaceship on December 24th. Russian cosmonaut Salizhan Sharipov and astronaut Leroy Chiao will install the German robot on the outside of the International Space Station at the end of January.



(From Новый робот-манипулятор)

ROKVISS is a fifty centimeter-long robotic manipulator with two hinges, a controller, lighting system, metallic fingers and two built-in cameras. This device will work in open space, installed on the external platform of the space station. A stereo video camera mounted on the front-most joint of the robot transmits images together with the measured joint positions and current joint moments to the ground station. The robot receives its motion commands from the ground station in real-time via an S-band communications link. The robot can be operated in an automatic and a telepresence mode. Telepresence mode can be used for about five to seven minutes during the phase of direct radio contact, when the system passes over the receiving station in Germany (German Space Operation Center, GSOC).

In the automatic mode, the system goes through selected, predefined motion sequences. The measured joint data will be stored on-board and later transmitted to ground during the contact phases. The total downlink communication data rate including "housekeeping" and video data will be between 2 and 4 Mbits per second. Uplink communication takes place at a minimum of 128 kbits per second. Continuous control is handled from the ground. The ROKVISS S-band antenna is aligned to Earth (nadir). The cameras will also be able to take pictures of incoming and outgoing spacecraft and the extravehicular activities of the astronauts and cosmonauts.


(From ROKVISS Location Diagram)

The goal of the program is to demonstrate that it is possible to fully control the robot remotely from Earth. "We must demonstrate that our robot can be controlled from earth in the real time, almost without delays, and that it is highly autonomous," said one of the robot's designers, Gerd Hirzinger, a professor at the Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics. "If we succeed, we will be able to do dangerous and difficult tasks in space from earth." A 500 millisecond round trip delay is expected in the signal.

In Oath of Fealty, a Larry Niven/Jerry Pournelle novel written in 1981, we can see the future of telepresence in the following scenes from a documentary described in the book:

"Meet Rachel Lief," Lunan said. "Ms. Lief is a bulldozer driver." Lunan paused for effect. "As you see, Ms. Lief doesn't look like your typical tractor driver..."
"But then," Lunan said, "not every bulldozer operator works on the Moon." The cameras followed the trim woman into another room, where there was a replica of a large tractor. It was surrounded by TV screens. One screen showed an astronaut sitting in the driver's seat, staring impatiently into the screen. A bleak, nearly colorless pit showed over his left shoulder.
"About time you got here," the astronaut said.
"We were busy," Rachel sat down in the driver's seat and took hold of the controls. "I relieve you..."
The bulldozer moved through the lunar strip mine... "As you can see... this is no easy job. It takes over a second for the signal to get to the Moon, and over a second for the information to get back to her. It takes a lot of computer power to work this trick, but its worth it. Meet Colonel Robert Boyd, commander of Moon Base."
"Colonel Boyd, does it help to have Earth-based machine operators?"
"Sure. It costs a lot to keep people on the Moon. Now it's like I have four or five times as many people up hear, and I don't have to find air for them or feed them."

I also find it interesting that the remotely operated telepresence robot will be delivered by an unmanned, automated ship.

If you are interested in a teleoperated robot that is more humanoid in form, read Robonaut Performs Hubble Space Repair Tasks; if you think that machines should be able to get their task done without human guidance, read Teleo-Reactive Programs Are Reaching Their Goals. Read more about ROKVISS at Space Station Crew Prepares For Robot and at ROKVISS presentation.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 12/15/2004)

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