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Supporting robot interaction in space


How SPRINT and the University of Surrey have supported Intelcomm on new ADSS technology project

Space science and human spaceflight were very much at the origin of the global space effort. They have not only been vital sources of inspiration and international cooperation but were also key for the technological advancement of space technologies. 

Due to the progresses in computational and robotic powers, autonomous capabilities will become much more advanced, both related to unmanned missions and to the assembly of human spaceflight infrastructure in space. This trend also comprises the use of artificial intelligence in support of in-situ autonomous mission control, by integrating collaborative technologies into mission concepts. 

Utilising new ADSS technology

Intelcomm is an SME technology R&D consultancy, established in 1989, with extensive experience in developing prototypes and fielding mission critical systems for the communications and aerospace industries in the UK, US and internationally. 

To develop new solutions to support human robot interaction in space, Intelcomm signed up to the national SPRINT business support programme to focus on new autonomous decision support system (ADSS) technology.

Using ADSS will greatly reduce the astronaut’s dependency on Earth-based mission control and will return control to the astronaut to enable a full oversight of the robotic operating systems. This will help astronauts to manage difficult or potentially dangerous failure scenarios in a timely manner and avoid escalation, ensuring their safety and the safety of the robotic or autonomous system.

Applying Extended Reality to the project

The aim of the Intelcomm ADSS project was to develop the application of XR (Extended Reality) technology for use in spacecraft, but also for other related environments. As a spacecraft visual monitoring and detecting system, ADSS can detect and identify in real-time the spacecraft malfunctions and will enable just-in-time human intervention for repairs. 

In the headset, the user will be able to see the virtual representations of displaying models that are created through 3D laser scanners and designed in virtual reality with immersive software. Models and parts are overlaid on already assembled pieces of spacecraft. Wearing the headset, the user can identify, locate and receive the information about the malfunction, and instructions of repairs can be displayed right on top of the lens.

University delivers CAV-designed algorithm

Funded by SPRINT, Intelcomm collaborated with the University of Surrey to integrate a unique fault detection algorithm into its space robotic system. This provides safer space exploration by enabling the crew to remain fully aware of the health of an identified spacecraft system at all times, making data-enabled decisions in real-time and increasing the level of autonomy of the robotic platform.

The University of Surrey delivered a Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV)-designed Predictive Maintenance algorithm. Intelcomm utilised the expertise and facilities at the University to prove the concept for an enhanced Human-Machine (Autonomous/remote Rover) interface. 

The project was supported by the FAIR-SPACE Hub, a SPRINT partner, located at the Surrey Space Centre and a national centre of research excellence in space robotics and AI. 

Situational awareness is critical

Visualisation of a situation is one of the most intuitive and effective methods of assimilating dynamically changing information. This project aimed to develop a multi-dimensional, real-time, computer generated schematic model which is constantly updating in an XR environment using wireless sensor arrays for fault detection of an autonomous system with the help of a vehicle health management system. 

Users, such as astronauts on board the ISS or a spacecraft or in deep space, will be able to view multiple level virtual information flow of said automated system via a head-mounted display, enabling the crew to remain fully aware of the health of an identified spacecraft system at all times. 

Implementation of a monitoring health management software into the system will not only enable the crew to have oversight of the health of the system but will also enable real-time robust decision-making to enable the fault in the system to be repaired in real time without Earth team support. 

Bringing all technologies together under SPRINT

Bob Buckle, Director of Intelcomm UK said: “The research originally came out of work with the US government, looking at ways to give certain people vast amounts of information in real-time. The European Space Agency is also focusing on astronaut safety and support services for ISS so the opportunities to look at ADSS technology for space applications quickly became apparent.

“At Intelcomm, we’re in the business of transferring information; albeit in this case, not just pooling information into one place but allowing for distribution amongst different users with different requirements, whilst being mindful of what the information is being used for.

Bob Buckle, Director of Intelcomm


“By combining technology with a man/machine interface, fundamental in the way that we put the system together, we can create ‘situational awareness’. Being aware of overloading competent users with information that isn’t intuitive to them and having looked at the technology available, we explored the introduction of graphical information through head-mounted displays, mitigating the need to sit in front of a keyboard or screen.

“The new Internet of Things technology allows us to import and convey large amounts of information in an intuitive way. Although some of this technology is already in place, the integration of real-time information is relatively new and the SPRINT project has allowed us to bring all of these technologies together. Astronauts can use the technology and although we’re using space as a primary target for this particular development, we’ve also had interest from other industries.

“Intelcomm and the University of Surrey have worked together on other programmes including autonomous vehicles and through the Surrey Space Centre, they have brought extremely useful experience in deep space communications.

“We’ve truly valued our connection with the University. Although we have our own R&D resource, we really like the idea of cross-expertise, cross-discipline working and by collaborating with the experts at Surrey, we couldn’t be in a better place to move closer to reaching our ‘holy grail’ of a comfortable head-mounted display that makes you aware of everything around you and should a situation occur, you can react before it escalates to become a critical situation.”

Novel algorithm creates industry-first solution

Dr Saber Fallah, Senior Lecturer in Vehicle and Mechanotronic Systems at the University of Surrey added: “We’ve worked with Intelcomm in the past on a feasibility study into a purpose-built, complete, communication system for remote deployed CAV operation, and have already developed a successful working relationship.

“For the SPRINT project, we leveraged this research expertise to integrate a patent-pending algorithm for predictive maintenance. This has enabled Intelcomm to develop an ADSS for space situational awareness in a human robot interaction scenario.

Dr Saber Fallah, Senior Lecturer in Vehicle and Mechanotronic Systems at the University of Surrey 

“Developing this system will help astronauts and other operators to see real-time information with visualisation systems. Development of fault detection, diagnostics and prognostics of the robot system can save time in finding the cause of a fault as the algorithm and the situational awareness capability that it creates, allows faults to be predicted in advance and the health of the system can then be monitored in a visual and predictive way.

“The challenge of the SPRINT project was to use 3D CAD modelling to overlay what you visualise in real-time, using machine learning and AI techniques for the predictive algorithm. What we’ve developed is a novel algorithm that enables situational awareness in glasses/headware; something that hasn’t been achieved yet in the market.

“Following the SPRINT project, we’re working on a revolutionary immersive VR model and in partnership with Intelcomm, we will continue with the application for other sectors such as automotive and healthcare.

“We intend to be first to market with a technology that enables high risk industries with routine human machine interface (HMI) requirements, to improve safety and operational effectiveness by linking live sensor data with real-time XR tools. Implementation of monitoring the wireless intelligent sensors will not only enable the users to have an oversight of the health of the system, but will also enable real-time robust decision-making to identify the fault in the system and to carry out just-in-time repairs.”