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NASA to Build Autonomous Robots to Explore Solar System, Progress so Far

Jan 31, 2017 05:00 AM EST

NASA is taking a deeper dip into the autonomous robots field, with a desire to develop new technology to "improve" how humans interact with new robotic counterparts.

Terry Fong, senior scientist for autonomous system at NASA's Ames Research Center, said it may be about time for humans and robots to interact with autonomous systems. This is especially the case for robots they can trust.

According to a NASA Ames video, Fong said scientists need to create a piece of software that would allow them to look at a terrain and sensor data from autonomous robots. This resulted to the creation of VERVE, a "3D robot user interface" that helps NASA see and grasp the 3D world of remotely operated robots.

In a report from Motherboard, VERVE has been used with NASA's K10 planetary rovers. These are mobile "robot" prototypes that are built to travel bumpy terrains. It's also used with the agency's K-Rex planetary rovers that determine soil moisture, as well as with the SPHERES on the International Space Station. Its latest use is with the new robot Astrobee, which flies around the ISS.

In 2013, NASA carried out a series of tests with astronauts on the ISS, where astronauts who were in the international space station remotely operated the K10 rover in California. However, we can't just "plug in a controller" on a robot due to the time delay. The robot will have to be able to do the tasks assigned to it.

Tech Eye states that this, however, still means that a human being should be on the other side of the control structure. A presence of a human brings experience and cognition into the fray, something robots do not have -- at least not yet.

The technology being developed at NASA will not just be for astronauts alone. NASA wants to develop the technology to be used in a myriad of industries as well, including the commercial sector such as supporting autonomous vehicles in partnership with Nissan.

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