ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli operated a rover in Germany from the International Space Station on 25 August 2017. Part of ESA’s METERON project, the experiment with German Aerospace Center DLR’s Rollin’ Justin is about developing ways to allow astronauts to control robots from orbit.
Justin in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, was placed in a Mars scenario and tasked with diagnosing solar panels. Paolo, flying at 28 800 km/h 400 km above Earth, worked with Justin to inspect three solar panels and find a malfunction. He then instructed Justin to plug in a diagnostic tool read and upload the error logs.
Paolo could see video from Justin’s camera on his tablet that includes a mini-map that automatically updates based on what Justin’s artificial intelligence recognises. Moving the camera to view a solar panel will make it appear on the map as a new waypoint to navigate to.
Justin had a large level of autonomy, allowing Paolo tap on the screen of a tablet with Justin visually identifying the area and reacting accordingly. Similar to a point-and-click adventure but infinitely more complicated – in real life there is no room for error.