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VTT’s project enables astronauts to control robots on Mars via space station

Humans definitely require the aid of robots if they plan on stepping foot on Mars. Robots are needed to build infrastructure, such as housing and laboratories, on the planet’s surface to prepare for future manned space missions. Figuring out how to do this has always presented a challenge to space agencies. Now, scientists have developed a communication solution that can help astronauts control robots on Mars’s surface from a space station.

The technology developed by the UNISONO project is an important step toward man stepping foot on the red planet. Astronauts can practice controlling the robots on Earth from the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS swings around low-Earth orbit, meaning astronauts constantly lose direct contact with the robots. The lack of control results in an interruption in the data and video transmission between the robots and astronauts.

“Losing control of the robot during a critical task can cause damage to the task or the robot itself. The UNISONO project has developed a solution which can keep the astronaut in constant contact with the robot during entire orbit,” Dr. Ali Muhammad, Principal Investigator in Robotics Systems at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, explained in a press release.

Expanding the time window

The time window in which technicians on Earth would be in direct contact with robots on Mars is much narrower than what is needed. The UNISONO project figured out they could widen this window of opportunity by switching between relay stations on the ground. This enables astronauts to simulate future robot missions on Mars, the moon and other space missions.

The project is still in its preliminary stages. The researchers have contrived a switching concept which will need to be further flushed out for future manned space missions.

The technology has applications in the here and now. The same concept could be used to orchestrate wireless data transmission system that could mitigate the risk of smart phones losing their signal whenever people travel in moving cars or trains.

The gaming world could also seize upon this technology to stop lags and jitters in video games too.

“Mobile gamers frequently experience lags and other connection issues during a game. The technology developed in the course of the UNISONO project could improve their experience,” Janne Seppänen, Research Scientist at VTT, told sources.

Restoring Finland’s reputation in space exploration

The UNISONO project is dependent upon communication tools, like Qosmet, in the course of research projects with VTT. Qosmet is a device used to review network performance. During the UNISONO project, Qosmet monitored and stayed connected whenever communication switched from one relay station to the next.

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has a long history of developing technologies that can cope with extreme environments, including a myriad of robot-based solutions for the maintenance of a reactor under construction in France.

“The UNISONO project made an important contribution in reinforcing VTT’s reputation among the space research organisations, industries and research institutions involved in the space ecosystem,” said Dr. Muhammad.

The UNISONO project was awarded to the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and the Italian company Altec SpA by the European Space Agency (ESA) following an international tournament. The project began in June 2014 and is organized by VTT. The UNISONO project is an outgrowth of the Multi-Purpose End-To-End Robotic Operation Network (METERON) program.


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