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The future of space exploration will increasingly involve joint teams of humans and robots. Humans and robots have unique capabilities that can complement each other and that can enhance exploration. Robots can perform precursor tasks, such as reconnaissance, to prepare for future human activity. Robots can work in support of astronauts, assisting or performing tasks in parallel. Robots can also perform "follow-up" work, completing tasks designated or started by humans.
In this talk, I will describe how the NASA Ames Intelligent Robotics Group has been studying human-robot teaming for space exploration. The central premise of our work is that humans and robots should support one another in order to compensate for limitations of automation and manual control. This principle has broad applicability to a wide range of domains, environments, and situations. At the same time, however, effective human-robot teaming requires communication, coordination, and collaboration -- all of which present significant research challenges. I will discuss some of the ways that NASA Ames is addressing these challenges and present examples of our work involving planetary rovers, free-flying robots, and analog field testing
For decades, NASA has employed different operational approaches for human and robotic missions. Human spaceflight missions to the Moon and in low Earth orbit have relied upon near-continuous communication with minimal time delays. During these missions, astronauts and mission control communicate interactively to perform tasks and resolve problems in real-time. In contrast, deep-space robotic missions are designed for operations in the presence of significant communication delay -- from tens of minutes to hours. Consequently, robotic missions typically employ meticulously scripted and validated command sequences that are intermittently uplinked to the robot for independent execution over long periods.
Over the next few years, however, we will see increasing use of robots that blend these two operational approaches. These "interactive exploration robots" will be remotely operated by humans on Earth or from a spacecraft. These robots will be used to support astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS), to conduct new missions to the Moon, and potentially to enable remote exploration of planetary surfaces in real-time. In this talk, I will discuss the technical challenges associated with building and operating robots in this manner, along with lessons learned from research conducted with the ISS and in the field.