The NASA Haughton-Mars Project (HMP) has successfully field-tested the astronaut smart glove. It’s deliberately designed for exploration on Mars, the Moon, and other destinations. The Smart Glove is a model for a human-machine interface or HMI, allowing astronauts to wirelessly operate robotic equipment such as drones through simple hand gestures.
Just last month, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration revealed their new Artemis Generation spacesuit, created to keep astronauts comfortable and safe on the Moon’s surface.
That said, SETI Institute claims spacesuits will still remain cumbersome, limiting the ability of astronauts to perform precise tasks. Pascal Lee, a planetary scientist with SETI and the Mars Institute, said a smart glove-equipped spacesuit might just be the solution.
Lee believes astronauts could easily control a number of robotic assets, making science and exploration on Mars, the Moon, and other destinations more effective and productive. The Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s startup Ntention, which is run by students, developed the smart glove that was tested in HMP’s 2019 field campaign.
Intuitive Human-machine Interfaces
Moina Medboe Tamuly, COO at Ntention, said their philosophy is to create technology that will allow human-machine interfacing intuitive and seamless. They are very excited to see their technology has potential applications in space exploration.
Lee suggested that after seeing the demonstration of the glove for space applications, it could be applied to an astronaut’s spacesuit. Lee added when he first saw the smart glove in action, he immediately thought of Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law, saying any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
With Tamula as lead designer, the Ntention team accepted his challenge to create a prototype that uses a microcontroller to read subtle motions. These subtle motions are transferred to a mobile device to control a robot. The smart glove was interspersed into an existing Collins Aerospace spacesuit and then put through a series of field tests involving the teleoperation of commercial drones.
When astronauts are on Mars or the Moon, they want to fly drones for a number of reasons, including collecting a sample that is out of reach or must be isolated from contamination. Another reason could be to perform a search and rescue operation. Other purposes might include mapping, sampling, surveying, fetching, scouting, and inspecting.
Further assessment of the Astronaut Smart Glove for Mars and Moon exploration will continue along with applications to control other kinds of robotic equipment including robotic manipulators and rovers.