Whether a technology was originally developed for the space program has been a selling point for many products over the decades. In a sign that modern medicine is the new space program, medical robotics engineers at Johns Hopkins and West Virginia University are now working with NASA to bring their expertise to the development of robots that may be used in the future to work on orbiting satellites.
So far they managed to interface the da Vinci surgical robot’s console with an industrial robot 30 miles away, receiving 3D video and haptic feedback, while controlling its movements from afar.
From the JHU Gazette:
One task the team has worked on is the use of a remote-controlled robot to carefully cut the plastic tape that holds a satellite’s thermal insulation blanket in place. The tape must be cut and the blanket pulled back in order to expose the satellite’s refueling port. A long-distance test of this procedure, in which an operator at Johns Hopkins will guide a robot through a tape-cutting procedure in West Virginia, is slated to take place soon.
The task will be much more challenging when the target satellite is in orbit around the moon, for example. Because of the distance, there will be a significant delay between the time the operator signals the robot to move and the time these instructions are received and carried out. The research team is working on technology to help compensate for this delay.