The European Space Agency has introduced Justin, a space android, which would be controlled by astronauts seated at the Columbus Laboratory at ESA.
The Justin mobile robotic system, developed at the German Aerospace Center, DLR, with its compliant controlled lightweight arms and its two four-fingered hands, is an ideal experimental platform. Credit: DLR
Justin is a new entry into the family of tele-operated robots that are used in Moon and planet explorations. The experimental robot is expected to recreate the movements that an astronaut at the Space Station would execute in another two to three years. Using an exoskeleton type wearable robot, which is an arm and glove combination of electronic circuitry, which is capable of reproducing the sensations a human hand is capable of feeling. Through this set up, a remote operator can work as if he is present in space. ESA intends to link the Space Station and Earth for controlling robotic experiments on earth from the orbital outpost. This Meteron (Multi-purpose End-to-End Robotic Operations Network) is a ground for conducting future missions to the Moon, Mars and other celestial bodies.
Kim Nergaard, the ground segment and operations manager at ESA, noted that the Space station was a perfect platform for simulating realistic scenarios for humans to conduct explorations. He explained that they would first need to set up robust communication architecture and an operations system, which astronauts and robots at ESA could use to work together. A number of proposals were submitted when ESA called for ideas for the Space Station to be used as a testbed for exploration missions. François Bosquillon de Frescheville, in charge of the human exploration mission studies at ESA, claimed that Meteron was capable of exploiting the existing infrastructure and technologies without the need for huge investments. Justin is a four wheel rover with two arms and a sophisticated navigation system consisting of cameras and sensors. The astronauts at the Space station would be able to operate ESA Eurobot archetype with the help of a joystick and a computer screen. The navigation system has been under testing at ESTEC space research and technology centre at Netherlands since 2008. The researchers are planning to establish control over the robots through force and touch.