16 SERVO 08.2014
LONG DISTANCE RELATIONSHIPS
Visionary ‘rocket scientists’ shared their ideas recently at
the TEDx RocketMinds event at ESA’s operations center in
André Schiele, who leads ESA’s telerobotics lab,
attempted a very special demonstration of remote robotic
operations. Donning an exoskeleton that weighs just 10 kg,
he controlled a robot at ESA’s technical heart in Noordwijk:
the Netherlands – over 400 km away.
The robot copies André’s arm and hand movements as
commands, and feedback is sent over a regular cell phone
“The technology we developed for space has enormous
potential for assisting in emergency situations where humans
cannot go — like the Fukushima nuclear meltdown or the
Deep Water Horizon oil spill,” says Schiele,
Sending robots into disaster areas has long been a goal
of emergency workers, but electricity and communications
networks are often the first to be hit.
Since the exoskeleton is battery powered and sends
commands through a cellular network, it can be deployed
quickly in an emergency even if the infrastructure in the
disaster zone has been damaged. As long as the robot can
receive a cell phone signal, it will work.
A key factor is that the remote robot transmits what it
‘feels’ back to the operator wearing the exoskeleton. This
touch-sensitive information allows the fine control needed to
cope in difficult situations. For example, different forces are
required to move a rock as opposed to pulling someone out
of a collapsed building.
Photo courtesy of C.Riemenschneider.
Dr André Schiele, Head of ESA’s Telerobotics &
Haptics Laboratory, performed a breathtaking
demonstration of how robotics technology developed
for the International Space Station may enable
breakthroughs for robotics operations down here on
Earth. Donning an exoskeleton that weighs just 10 kg,
he controlled a robot from the Netherlands.