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SPHERES remote control demonstration bodes well for future space exploration

•, By David Szondy
 There’s a one to three second delay as data passes back and forth between the robot and ground control, which means that operators have to anticipate how the robots will move during these delays. This week, the Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center (ATC) announced the first-ever demonstration of collaborative tele-operations that involved control of robots on the International Space Station (ISS) by astronauts on the ISS and operators on the ground.
Given how counterintuitive weightlessness is, remote operation of robots in space poses major problems; especially when delicate equipment and exhaust gases from other satellites are involved. One way of handling the delay as instructions travel between space and the ground via satellite relays is by building systems with a high degree of autonomy. But, according to Lockheed, what NASA and the ATC were demonstrating on the ISS is a slightly different approach, where the ground controller is working in concert with a second operator on the space station using an interface that allows for automated control of one or more robots combined with manual control.

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