Italian ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli remote-controlled the Rollin’ Justin robot from the ISS.
Credit: NASA/DLR

A humanoid robot that can be used for future Mars exploration has been operated from the International Space Station (ISS).

On August 25, Italian ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli remote-controlled the “Rollin’ Justin” robot, research work underway at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR).

On a roll. Enter Rollin’ Justin.
Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

Delegate duties

The effort is designed to demonstrate from Mars orbit that astronauts can dispatch a robot to different positions on the planet without actually having to land and visit the site.

Instead, the astronaut-driver would monitor the process and send instructions that lay out the sequence of tasks to the robot. Activities that would be dangerous for astronauts can also be delegated to the robot.

The long-term objective of the project is to enable human/robot collaboration to colonize distant worlds.

Maintenance of a solar panel by Rollin’ Justin. Robot has connected itself to a solar panel and is reading out data. The robotic co-worker then carries out the any needed fixes in accordance with error analoysis.
Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

Servicing a solar farm

During the experiment, a tablet-PC was used to send instructions to the robot at the DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany from the ISS.

The Justin robot was then left to its own devices in the completion of various tasks and was required to use artificial intelligence to decide how individual work stages needed to be completed.

In the first experiment in the series, ISS crewmate Nespoli ordered Rollin’ Justin to service a solar farm set up specifically in the laboratory in Oberpfaffenhofen to check the condition of several solar panels and to repair any faults.

 High-performance, local intelligence

This research is on-going, enabled by the SUPVIS (Supervisory Control) Justin experiment, which is being carried out as part of the Multi-Purpose End-to-End Robotic Operation Network (Meteron) in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA).

DLR’s robot “Rollin’ Justin” is investigating human-machine interaction for Mars exploration.
Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

“In the SUPVIS Justin experiment, we are laying the foundation for cooperation between astronauts and intelligent, humanoid robots in the colonization of distant planets and moons,” says Alin Albu-Schäffer, director of the DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics in a press statement. “The robots are equipped with high-performance local intelligence, so the astronaut only needs a tablet-PC to instruct the robot in the performance of complex activities.”

Adds DLR research team leader, Neal Lii: “We intend to use this project to cross new frontiers and to transform robots into true co-workers for a variety of tasks in aerospace. In the long term, this should ease the strain on astronauts in the area of planetary exploration.”

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