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NASA showcases spaceflight, robotics and autonomous systems technology at CES 2017
by Staff Writers
Washington DC (SPX) Jan 13, 2017

NASA Ames' Linda Kobayashi explains intelligent robotics systems to CES attendee. Image courtesy NASA/Terry Fong. For a larger version of this image please go here.

Joining industry technology leaders, NASA hosted a booth at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Jan. 5-9, 2017, to display and discuss its advanced technologies for human and robotic space exploration and to showcase technology transfer to self-driving cars.

For the second time, NASA exhibited mockups of the Space Launch System (SLS), which will carry the Orion crew exploration spacecraft, as well as interactive virtual tours of the SLS and the Orion command module. Former NASA astronaut Don Thomas made a special appearance to sign autographs and pose in pictures with guests at this year's event, which drew more than 190,000 industry professionals.

Experts discussed how NASA's future exploration missions would use interactive software to support human-robot teaming. The software, "Visual Environment for Remote and Virtual Exploration" or VERVE, is a 3-D graphical user interface for visualizing robot data and remote environments in real-time. VERVE has been used to remotely operate and manage NASA's K10 planetary rover in the Canadian Arctic and the Arizona desert, the Smart SPHERES free-flying robot on the International Space Station, and a lunar rover prototype for the Resource Prospector mission concept.

In partnership with NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley, automaker Nissan unveiled, during a keynote address live streamed on the internet, the development of intelligent mobility technologies that will enable autonomous and driverless cars to co-exist with human drivers in the near future.

"NASA's open-source software, VERVE, provides the foundation for human-robot teaming in Nissan's new 'Seamless Autonomous Mobility' (SAM) system and CES is a great venue for showcasing this spin-off technology to the general public," says Terry Fong, director of the NASA Ames Intelligent Robotics Group. "VERVE allows humans to provide assistance to autonomous vehicles in unpredictable and difficult situations when the vehicles cannot solve the problem themselves."

Thousands of visitors to the Nissan CES exhibit watched live, televised demonstrations of multiple, all-electric LEAF vehicles performing autonomous drives at NASA Ames in California. A Nissan "mobility manager" at CES used the SAM system to remotely help the self-driving cars navigate around construction machinery and other difficult road obstacles.

Autonomy and robotics are a critical capability for all NASA missions in aeronautics, Earth and planetary sciences, and human spaceflight. Future missions will require adaptable systems, including human-robot teams, to handle complex, rapidly changing environments in orders to robustly achieve reliable and dependable performance.

At the NASA booth, visitors experienced fully immersive tours of the surface of Mars using virtual reality headsets and learned about the technologies that will allow humans to explore the red planet for an extended period of time. Also, guests were shown how augmented reality using "smart glasses" will help future astronauts and space explorers carry out maintenance and operational procedures.

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