by Staff Writers
Paris (ESA) May 08, 2012
Challenged to design a background for a small rover controlled from space, students in Germany have delivered a futuristic cityscape. The cool space art will be seen by astronauts in orbit via the rover's camera eye as they remotely control their avatar later this year. The ultimate goal is for robot astronauts to roam around hazardous places like Mars and asteroids guided by human controllers safely orbiting overhead in their spacecraft.
As a first step, ESA is linking the International Space Station and Earth for remotely controlling terrestrial test robots from the orbital outpost.
This Meteron (Multi-purpose End-To-End Robotic Operations Network) initiative is a testbed for future missions to the Moon, Mars and other celestial bodies.
Astronauts to practise rover remote control
The rover - known as Meteron Operation and CommUnication Prototype, or MOCUP - is built from a LEGO Mindstorm kit with some custom-made additions, and for now can do only simple things.
The astronauts will use a computer on the Station to control the rover and will see what it is 'seeing' and doing on a screen, like a video game.
"The Space Station is the perfect orbital platform to simulate very realistic scenarios for human exploration," says ESA's Kim Nergaard, a Meteron manager.
In the simulation, the rover is meant to be moving through an 'alien' landscape, so the ESA team asked local secondary-school students to design a horizon in the shape of a hexagon built out of 12 painted wooden panels to contain the rover and a number of obstacles for the astronauts to negotiate.
Design open to imagination
"We thought they'd do a reddish, martian desert, maybe with a few boulders. Instead, they delivered a futuristic cityscape.
"It's wonderful, and it speaks volumes about the optimism with which youth imagine the future - it's obviously a pretty cool place."
While brainstorming their graphic design, the 11 students from the Schuldorf Bergstrasse near Darmstadt considered a number of concepts, but finally settled on the cityscape.
"It was a democratic vote by the students themselves, who just thought a future city skyline would be more interesting for the live rover tests," said Petra Thomschke, one of the teachers working with the students.
"Remotely commanding the model rover will provide a through test for the links from the Station to ground, which must be confirmed before moving on to the more sophisticated robots later in the Meteron project," says Kim.
"The students of Schuldorf Bergstrasse can be proud of their contribution to ESA's exploration activities."
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New brain-machine interface moves a paralyzed hand
Chicago IL (SPX) Apr 25, 2012
A new Northwestern Medicine brain-machine technology delivers messages from the brain directly to the muscles - bypassing the spinal cord - to enable voluntary and complex movement of a paralyzed hand. The device could eventually be tested on, and perhaps aid, paralyzed patients. "We are eavesdropping on the natural electrical signals from the brain that tell the arm and hand how to move, ... read more
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