This may sound a bit like a Star Wars story. Last September, while orbiting in the ISS, Danish astronaut Andreas Mogensen took control of a rover located in the European Space Agency in the Netherlands….400 km below. During this world premiere, the space engineer was able to maneuver this two-arm Interact Centaur robot through a delicate, high-precision operation—lowering a pin into a narrow hole using a haptic joystick. Via force feedback, the scientist could feel vibrations when the pin wasn’t properly aligned. A camera mounted on the robot’s head allowed him to observe the task he was performing. The orders transited both a telecommunication satellite and a NASA base station before reaching the robot.
For scientists, this technical prowess opens new possibilities for outer space. If the range of the signal can be increased, it could facilitate human presence and settlements on remote planets. Such haptic technology also could have safety applications on Earth, for example at nuclear sites and other areas where it is too dangerous to send humans.