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Ever wondered how it would feel like to drive a remote controlled rover on the surface of Mars? Sound like fantasy?
Well, not really. We are now on the brink of a technological revolution where planetary exploration, deep space travel and reaching out to new worlds that are similar to our own are no more science fiction material. But the question remains, will we ever be able to put humans beyond the moon? We, at the Austrian Space Forum believe that the answer to this remains in the fact of realizing that this would be possible only through healthy human-robotic cooperation.
This past week was a testimony to one such action of combined effort. In order to materialize our ideas we teamed up with Mattro Mobility Revolutions to test, analyze and understand the important role man-machine interaction will play in future manned missions to mars and further. Since its inception in 2006, Mattro Mobility Solutions, popularly known as Mattro have been instrumental in the development of ecologically driven electric vehicles and robotic platforms on the principle of sustainable energy production in the background. The co-founder of the company Mr. Franz Huber is a very energetic and passionate individual focused on providing tailored solutions to complex technological problems. We are excited to start a new and hopefully a long-lasting relationship with his organization which will help us both in reaching new heights.
A recently created robotic vehicle by Mattro which is aptly named ‘BOCK’ for its unparalleled sturdiness, rigidity and stability will be tested at the AMADEE-15 mission to investigate the performance of the vehicle in rough, inhomogeneous and martian-like terrain. According to Mattro, BOCK is a radio controlled drivable platform with two powerful electric motors on tracks which is the ideal starting point for the development of special vehicles and mobile robots. Various mounting points on the chassis allow for individual setups and configurations. The self-analyzing, double-redundant electronics and safety brakes ensure the highest level of control at all times. The compact build with extremely low center of gravity and the broad stance qualify the vehicle perfectly for the use off-road. I would totally agree with this as my first impression of the design can be described as Curiosity (NASA’s mars rover) meets the tank!
Mr. Huber was kind enough to engage us in a very interesting preliminary field testing session at their manufacturing unit in order for us to get an idea of what exactly the beast was made up of. He also explained us the features of the robotic vehicle along with its operational procedure. And then came the moment I was awaiting all along. To test drive it! No matter how much grown men are, they will always have a weak spot for speedy toys! Be it a Porsche or a rover. We were no different. We hurriedly grabbed our first opportunity to get a feel of this powerful robot that was anything but ordinary.
The experience was just enthralling. I was genuinely amazed by the speeds that it could achieve. You don’t get to see a robot that can travel at 35 Km/h very often! The operation was fairly simple but it still needs proper training to master the vehicle. But driving it only for a few minutes was totally cool nevertheless. From a technical perspective, it was very well made too. The motors and sensors that were incorporated were very carefully chosen to improve the performance of the robot across the board. Navigation and localization algorithms were pretty sound as well. Even though the whole structure summed up to about 250 Kilos in weight, I was surprised to know that it could still bear a weight of 250 kilos more on the platform when used as a transporting vehicle. One word. Magnificent.
In summary, I would like to say that target-administered task analysis is being applied to assessing the necessities and requisites for developing novel methodologies and tools to allow a small number of humans to supervise significant robotic entities for future space exploration missions including to mars. The objective is to successfully integrate robots into a number of relevant tasks such that the robots can complement and augment the current human capabilities. An industry such as Space where time and precision are the most critical parameters, a fruitful human-robotic relationship can do a great deal of good to the intended outcomes. It is high time we ended the age-old philosophical debate of whether robots should be given priority over humans and started to walk and talk with them.
After all, evolution is based on cultivating prudent approaches of co-existence and harmony. Why should this be any different?
Author: Pradyumna N Vyshnav
- 15.10.2020 - 15.11.2020: AMADEE-20 Mars Simulation Israel
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