Proceedings PaperFrom Antarctica to space: use of telepresence and virtual reality in control of a remote underwater vehicle
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We describe an experiment which simulated many aspects of control of a remote vehicle on another planetary surface. We have developed a Telepresence-controlled Remotely Operated underwater Vehicle (TROV) and used it to perform scientific exploration in an ice-covered marine environment near McMurdo Station, Antarctica. The goal of the mission was to use telepresence and virtual reality technology to operate a remote vehicle to perform a scientific study of the marine environment under the sea ice in Antarctica. The TROV was operated both locally, from a habitat building located on the sea ice above a dive hole through which it was launched, and remotely over a satellite communications link from a control room at NASA's Ames Research Center. Local control of the vehicle was accomplished using a control box containing joysticks and switches, with the operator viewing stereo video camera images on a stereo display monitor. Remote control of the vehicle over the satellite link used either a stereo display monitor similar to that used locally, or a stereo head-mounted head- tracked display. The remote operators could also view a computer-generated graphic representation of the underwater terrain, modeled from the vehicle's sensors. The actual vehicle was driven either from within the virtual environment or by watching stereo video. Satellite communication was used to transmit stereo video from the TROV to NASA Ames and to provide a bi-directional Internet link to the TROV control computer for command and telemetry signals. All vehicle functions could be controlled remotely over the satellite link. The TROV was operated in Antarctica nearly continuously using both local and remote control for 7 weeks. The results of our experiments suggest that surface rovers using control technology with real time telepresence could vastly expand the range of human exploration from a human base on the Moon or Mars. Planetary surface rovers can also be controlled from Earth, although there is a significant time delay for such control for any planet other than the Moon. The use of virtual reality in the control interface will significantly improve the capabilities of remote rovers controlled from Earth.