the Fall of 2006, teams from multiple NASA centers including JSC,
Glenn, Ames, and JPL met in the Arizona desert near Meteor Crater
to conduct a series of tests exploring the interaction of suited astronauts
with multiple robot helpers.
Three trucks arrived from JSC, with the Command Trailer, the Garage
Trailer, and a covered truck with general field gear. The JSC diesel
generator and forklift were delivered.
Once the trucks were unloaded in the field,
the site was racked and the patio structure was assembled.
thunderstorms were observed 10 miles to the East and West, but no
rain fell over the test site. A major dust storm occurred in late
afternoon, with 30+ MPH sustained winds for about an hour. Winds
were from the South.
Team Begins Patio Construction
Four trucks arrived from JSC, with
Scout , the ACES Van, Scout's long conex box, the short conex box,
the transport trailer, the Kawasaki Mule, and Centaur. Two Trucks
arrived from JPL, with the Pressurized Rover Compartment (PRC),
and two ATHLETE robots. The JPL command bus, COACH, and logistical
vans and trailers also arrived. The ARC truck arrived, and the GRC
satellite truck arrived. A mobile crane arrived for unloading the
conex box's from their trailers.
Patio was covered, the Command and Garage Trailers were positioned,
the outfitting of the trailers was completed and they were connected
to the generator. The two Scout conex box's were lifted into position
with a crane. Scout's tents were assembled and positioned with anchors.
The ACES van and generators were positioned and setup. The JPL COACH
was positioned, and connected to power. The generator was powered
up and used for the bulk of the day. The ATHLETES dismounted from
their truck, and were checked out from COACH. The Centaur was un-crated,
and checked out in the Garage Trailer. The K-10 Orange and K-10
Blue were checked out, and placed in the Garage Trailer.
cleared in the afternoon. A minor dust storm erupted with intermittent,
~15 MPH winds from the East.
The GRC generator was delivered, and the network
control trailer arrived from KSC.
During the morning session, the robots continued
their individual checkouts. The PRC was lifted with the tripod and
then placed on one of the ATHLETEs using the LaRC lifting procedure.
K-10 Blue was tested in the field and its cameras were calibrated.
Scout was tested with GPS way-point collection, and the Kawasaki
Mule was used to collect GPs points ~1 mile from camp. Centaur was
driven in the field about a mile over the course of the day, testing
drive train gains for the soft dirt, rocks and clumps of brush.
Mid day the test leads had a conference and
selected the test zone, looking for a flat, horizontal area with
little vegetation that would be damaged. The site zone was selected
During the afternoon session, a complete run
of the coordinated field test scenario was completed. An RF interference
problem was found on ATHLETE- initial testing suggests it is only
near the SCOUT antennae tower, and the robot worked well in the
test zone. The ATHLETE carrying the PRC was positioned in the field
and lowered onto its hard points. SCOUT was driven into the test
zone by shirt sleeve operators, who dismounted and walked to the
PRC. Centaur successfully approached and grasped the EVA box from
the SCOUT equipment tray. K-10 Blue performed a 360 inspection of
SCOUT, and then SCOUT drove-out in an autonomous mode.
Cloudless Day, with a light wind from the Southeast.
performed long range field testing, in a selected region ~1 mile
to the West of camp. This test will be repeated with suited subjects
next week. Operations went well using shirt sleeve subjects. SCOUT
then participated in multiple test runs of the coordinated field
K-10 Blue practiced its
inspection task on the parked SCOUT, circum-navigating the vehicle
and providing photos. The ARC field crew is now fully integrated
into the JSC command trailer for operations, and is using the JSC
garage trailer for servicing.
Centaur practiced its
box removal task, successfully picking up the tool box from SCOUT's
equipment tray using a dual arm, grasp reflex. Base driving has
been tuned for the soft dirt and is performing well on the mix of
sand, rocks, and sparse vegetation.
The LaRC crew ascent ramp
was added to ATHLETE A, parked with the PRC on its back. The robot's
legs were posed to avoid contact with the ramp. ATHLETE B was readied
for some hill climbing tests.
Cloudless morning, with sparse clouds appearing
mid day. There was a light wind from the SouthEast. A "dust
devil" erupted over the GRC satellite truck, in the lee of
a hill. The miniature tornado was about 20 feet in diameter. It
rapidly moved across the test site and went directly over Centaur.
No damage occurred. ARC personnel had a chair holding their test
plan papers overturned. The papers were quickly lifted to 500 ft,
and lost to the desert. Two smaller "dust devils" sprang
up around camp during the afternoon, one hitting the garage trailer,
and the other loitering on the generator. No damage occurred.
K-10 at Camp
Left to Right: JPL Bus, Generators, Centaur Command Trailer &
Garage Trailer w/ Patio between, SCOUT Garage
Only morning runs were performed, due to a thunderstorm
in the afternoon.
The GRC satellite truck and KSC firewall are now fully operational.
Satellite phones have been routed to the command trailers, so that
cell phones will not be needed as much.
SCOUT performed long range field testing in the morning, at the
site ~1 mile to the West of camp. Teleoperation was tested, using
the ACES van. Planning software was tested, and connection to the
suit CAI packs was tested. A bolt on the left rear suspension "A-Arm"
came loose, and was fixed in the field with a jack.
Centaur completed the last of its task checkouts, with obstacle
avoidance, an autonomous driving approach to SCOUT, and an autonomous
grasp. Multiple runs were performed, and tasks times were shortened
to about 7 minutes. In the afternoon, Centaur was tested in the
Garage trailer performing grasping trials, while the weather was
K-10 Blue continued to practice its inspection task, performing
a 360 drive around SCOUT. The robot is performing well in the rougher
terrain around the SCOUT parking location.
ATHLETE A (with PRC) had to be tarped due to the significant wind
and rain. ATHLETE B was used in a test with its bucket positioned
in an inverted pose like a backhoe. The robot performed digging
in the sun back soil, finding the soil is quite tough more than
a couple centimeters deep. The teeth on the bucket dug into the
hard pack to full depth, and the high strength of the legs overpowered
the soil. As the storm approached, ATHLETE B was also tarped. After
the thunderstorm, ATHLETE B was checked out and found to be healthy.
The day start with a clear sky. Mid day a large thunderstorm
formed to the NorthWest, and gradually widened and moved over the
test site. Sustained ~ 20MPH winds and light rain forced a termination
of the afternoon runs.
Centaur Grasps a Sample Box
Athlete Module Covered for Rain
Individual CFD practice runs
were completed by both Centaur and K-10. The Centaur crew gained
more experience with obstacles that approximate planetary camera
stands. During all morning runs, Centaur video images and telemetry
were continuously shipped to the DRL via the GRC Satellite truck.
K-10 added a large rock to the CFD test area to demonstrate its
SCOUT successfully tele-operated the Planetary
Exploration Geophone System (PEGS) from ACES. PEGS was also tested
using SCOUT's autonomous precision driving capabilities (worked
very well). Other items that were tested and functioned exceptionally
well, were: 1) Power management system, 2) Mobile Agents Software,
and 3) ExPOC voice commanding.
ATHLETE continued to dig using its miniature
Two integrated CFD practice runs were completed.
SCOUT personnel filled in for suited subjects. Both runs were successful,
and techniques to reduce overall run time are being discussed within
the groups. The weather rapidly deteriorated during the start of
a third run and the run was cancelled. With a strong possibility
of lightning in the area, all equipment was secured and the camp
was closed down in late afternoon.
K-10 Leaves Garage Trailer
Command Trailer Interior
Patio Platform Between Command & Garage Trailers
The SCOUT team walked through test plan 5 in
preparation for afternoon activities.
ATHLETE manipulated a box that approximates a simulated lunar nuclear
The Centaur teamed continued to refine obstacle avoidance and practiced
approaching and removing the sample box. The K-10 team implemented
a new procedure, reducing inspection time from 25 minutes to 14
minutes. The PRC fan power system was moved to eliminator generator
fumes from entering the crew compartment. Donning stands were installed
in the PRC and suit technicians were trained in PRC emergency egress
procedures. With permission from LaRC and RATS safety folks, the
hand rails were removed from the PRC ramp. Brain Wilcox/JPL personally
started the removal process with a saw in hand.
After a detailed pre-test briefing with all team members, Centaur,
SCOUT, K-10, ATHLETE and Desert RATS team members participated together
in their first official shirt sleeve run of the complete CFD. All
systems performed well. We even allowed a Cai pack to be worn and
it did not cause any disruptive EMI.
David Jerrera (SP) EVA Systems/Constellation Office/HQ came by with
Joe Kosmo and we gave him a well received tour of all robots and
While preparations were underway for the first
suited run of the trip, a storm started to roll in at 1:30 PM. All
equipment was secured and team members moved to the Meteor Crater
Visitor Center to wait out the storm which included lightning strikes
within 2 miles of the test area. The team returned to the test site
at 3:30 PM. The test area was fine.
Our first full up CFD suit run went well in spite of the weather.
All robots successfully preformed their tasks and for the first
time in the desert a suited subject entered the PRC. After the run,
the participants were strategically positioned for a CFD family
photo. The suited subject is Drew Feustel/CB.
Centaur spent the remainder of the afternoon practicing driving
and mapping out non-CFD desert activities for the weekend.
Scout modified TestPlan #5 (due to time constrained - it was getting
late and Drew had been in the suit for a long time). Test Plan #5
included PEGS operations by a suited subject (the PEGS project is
headed up by Drew). The system worked flawlessly and it was very
impressive to have a suited subject driving SCOUT and operating
a payload with very little shirtsleeve assistance (only assistance
was telling him where to stop - he needs to stop every 3 meters).
He was able to activate all the button on the DCS to mode motion,
drive with the joystick, monitor a Tablet PC onboard that was collecting
seismic information, and push all the buttons on the "Thumper
program" that Rob Hirsh wrote.
After over 2 hours in the suit, Drew drove back to suit camp, got
off SCOUT, and took the suit off. Overall everyone (Mobile Agents
Folks, Cai Pack team, Suit Team, SCOUT team, etc.) was very happy
with the test carried out by Drew.
Coordinated Field Demo Elements:
Athlete, Suited Astronaut, Robonaut, K-10, and SCOUT
Centaur Retrieves Sample Box from SCOUT
Throughout the day, SCOUT tested fully autonomous
operations of the thumper payload. This integration between the
Planetary Exploration Geophone System (PEGS) H/W, SCOUTs onboard
systems and Mobile Agents allows for the autonomous acquisition
of seismic data. In the past, a person would have to very precisely
manually drive to a certain location, another person would manually
operate the thumper, and then another person would have to prepare
and coordinate the movement to the next thump location. This sequence
is typically carried out 25 times during a PEGS operation. Using
these new capabilities successfully tested today, the system is
now able to performed a series of move, thump, prepare the thumper
to move with the press of ONE button. Additionally, this action
can be activated with a voice command issued by a suited subject
wearing a CAI pack, a local operator in the control trailer or a
remote operator in ExPOC. This capability will be demonstrated from
ExPOC this coming week.
During the morning, testing of the SCOUT obstacle
avoidance continued. This activity will continue throughout the
coming week. For periods during both the morning and afternoon,
the SCOUT vehicle was made available to Centaur and K-10 to allow
fine-tuning for the coordinated field demonstration.
In the morning, Centaur tested operations on
uneven, rocky terrain. These teleoperated tests involved driving
up and across the hill behind the camp, collecting rock samples
and placing the samples into a sample box.
In the afternoon, the Centaur and ATHLETE performed
joint activities. In the test ATHLETE deployed an anchor and Centaur
tethered ATHLETE to the anchor. This type of operation might be
required prior to ATHLETE descending into a lunar crater. Time permitting;
a similar activity will be performed during the upcoming week where
ATHLETE descends a hill, after being tethered an anchor by Centaur.
Throughout the day, Centaur practiced operations
for the coordinated field demonstration. Operations were initiated
from both the command trailer in Arizona and from the telepresence
cockpit in the Dexterous Robotics Lab in Houston.
The K-10 rover spent the day transitioning from
the first week crew to the second week crew and fine tuning for
the coordinated field demonstration
ATHLETE spent the morning driving an auger to
anchor a simulated lunar nuclear generator.
Robonaut Picks Up a Rock Sample
Robonaut's Centaur Base Navigates Rough Terrain
Centaur Assists Athlete With a Tether Hook
Skeleton crew only, with most
of the field team taking a (well deserved) day off.
There was a personnel change over on many of
the robot operations squads, with people from ARC, JPL and JSC taking
some time to go over status and do a crew "hand off".
SCOUT and Centaur were used in a series of practice
runs of the coordinated field test scenario. The work was primarily
on the Centaur driving approach to the Scout equipment tray. Multiple
control modes were tested, ranging from teleoperation with local
obstacle avoidance, to autonomous driving with supervision from
The day had a continuous string
of small thunderstorms across the valley, and required the robots
to be "safed" periodically.
Robonaut Performs Practice Runs
SCOUT Performed a shirt sleeve
run of its Test Plan 4. This test includes the suited subjects driving
the SCOUT vehicle performing human following and gesture control.
The Thumper was controlled from ExPOC at JSC, in two autonomous
modes. Additional SCOUT autonomies were tested. In the afternoon,
SCOUT participated in practice runs of the Coordinated Field Test
with the other robots, and the second suited run.
Centaur did final testing of all its autonomous
control modes. Lunar-like "rocks" were used as obstacles
for the long approach to SCOUT, with Centaur being teleoperated
while having a local control mode that prevented it from hitting
or coming close to obstacles over which it could not drive. For
this test the teleoperator intentionally drove directly at the rocks.
At high speeds (~10 KPH), the robot attempted to veer away from
the rocks, found that it could not, and stopped safely. This allowed
the operator to back up, and navigate around the object. At medium
speeds (~5 KPH) the robot autonomously modified the teleoperator's
commands, driving around the rock with a safe margin. As Centaur
approached the SCOUT vehicle, it switched to a fully autonomous
control mode, rendezvousing with the equipment tray on SCOUT's rear
bumper using stereo vision. Under time delayed supervision from
Houston, Centaur then grasped the sample box, using tactical and
force guided grasp reflexes.
ATHLETE B Continued its hill climbing work on
the terrain behind camp. Control gains were adjusted for the mix
of soft and hard soils, to refine autonomous load and chassis leveling.
The robot was tested on a scenario securing a box (emulating a nuclear
or other power system), using anchoring screws.
The day had a continuous string
of small thunderstorms in the morning, with one longer delay in
the afternoon. Weather moved from West to East.
Suited Runs with SCOUT
Athlete Climbs a Hill
SCOUT Performed a suited run
of its Test Plan 4. The following functions were fully tested:
1) Suit subjects manually driving with the use
of the onboard display and control system.
2) Voice Recognition and Voice synthesis,
3) Autonomous Power Management System,
4) Path Planning,
5) Human Following and Gesture Recognition using the vision system,
6) Mobile Agents Software,
7) Autonomous pt-2-pt navigation,
8) Automated Thumper Operations (from ExPOC and from Base camp),
9) Cai Pack
Two Scout team members provided interviews for
the Distance Learning Network (DLN) with Heather Paul and Debbie
Sharp. The vehicle video was reconfigured so that the DLN would
have access to video coming directly from SCOUT, which was in turn
broadcast nationally. In the afternoon, SCOUT was used in a suited
run with the Coordinated Field Test.
Centaur climbed the hills behind camp during
the morning, getting on top of the highest hill and setting up for
a joint test with ATHLETE. The Centaur base ran at ~5 KPH over rough
terrain, on rolling hills, out running engineers trotting alongside.
In the afternoon, Centaur returned to the front of camp for a successful
run of the Coordinated Field Test, supervised from Houston across
ATHLETE B climbed to the near the crest of the
hill behind camp, taking the very hardest possible path. This included
some tall steps up capstone, and the steepest section of the terrain.
The operations made a transistion between control modes as the terrain
steepened. For the first half, it rolled short distances (10-30cm)
on six wheels, stopping to level the chassis and redistributing
its weight across the six legs evenly. ATHLETE rolled up approximately
50% of the hill's height. As the terrain became too steep for this
mode, it transitioned to an autonomous 3-legged gait, lifting three
legs while advancing the body on the other three, then alternating
legs. This walking mode was used to move to approximately 75% of
the hill's height. Nearing the capstone, ATHLETE transitioned to
single leg moves, with each footfall designated over extremely rough
steps in the rock. By nightfall, ATHLETE was at 90% of the hill's
The day had a continuous string
of small thunderstorms in the morning, with two longer delays in
the afternoon. Most weather was moving from the SouthEast to NorthWest.
SCOUT Suited Tests Continue
This day was devoted to final
checkouts for the Coordinated Field Test. SCOUT, K-10, Centaur,
ATHLETE A with its PRC and the two suited subjects performed multiple
test runs. When the team seemed bored, we ran again. And again.
Then one more time to be sure.
All systems performed well, and the team is
well positioned to identify and handle the few abnormal things that
are inevitable in a complex system. Annomalies such as periodic
reductions in the network bandwidth are now easily identified, and
the team does not waste time chasing loose strings, since we have
solutions that are well proven. Switching control modes, taking
10 second pauses for network traffic to clear, or re-ordering events
are tactics that have been tested, and are at the team's fingertips.
During the tedium of repeated trials, the operations have been refined
and the task's timeline has quickened.
The camp has begun to collect a large number
of still and video cameras on tripods, and this day was spent refining
how to position these cameras for best effect. The number of people
following the systems was reduced, so only those required for safety
were allowed in the field. The humans and robots are ready.
In the evening, the team decided to take a risk.
Centaur was driven back up on the hill and a new task was attempted
with ATHLETE B. The task was to drive an anchor into the capstone,
set a belay, and then allow ATHLETE to rappel down the hill. ATHLETE
B had made it to the top of the hill in the morning during the coordinated
field test, and had identified an ideal placement of the anchor.
The following sequence was choreographed:
1) Centaur would approach ATHLETE and extract
the EVA tether hook, backing up while pulling the rappel line out
of ATHLETE's body.
2) ATHLETE Would extracted a screw from its tool holster, position
it, drive it into the rock, let go of the tool leaving an eyelet
positioned for Centaur, and then lift that limb out of the way.
3) Centaur would drive back into position, connect the tetherhook
to the eyelet on the screw, release the tether, and back out of
4) ATHLETE would then used the tethered, screw anchored, line to
rappel back down the hillside.
For a first attempt, the task went extremely
well, taking about 40 minutes. In the tag up following the test,
a couple ideas were agreed upon for improvements, such as how to
place the tether hook initially on ATHLETE, and how to pose ATHLETE's
limbs to provide better reach access for Centaur. It was agreed
to show this task to guests the following day, weather permitting.
Relatively stormy day, with
several stops for small showers. The team could see the storms coming
for 20-40 miles, and make good choices about when to safe the camp.
Lightning strikes were seen in the distance (>40 miles). Wind
gusts before each storm were ~25 MPH.
Centaur and Athlete Work From a Hill Top
Centaur Secures a Safety Line for Athlete's Descent
On our last day in the desert,
we set aside time for showing our guests several of our robot and
space suit activities. As luck would have it, the weather was the
worst we had seen in 10 days.
About 12 guests from the NASA ESMD Advanced
Capabilities Division at HQ and the LaRC ETDP Program Office were
met in Flagstaff and directed out to the test site. Along the way,
the group traveled through a large thunderstorm that proceeded East,
and arrived at the camp about 30 minutes after the people arrived.
In that time, the guests had a chance to receive a briefing from
Amy Ross, the lead for the advanced space suit testing, Craig Bernard,
the lead for the space suit information packs, and Frank Delgado,
the lead for the SCOUT rover. While the robots and people were poised
to run through the Coordinated Field Test, the weather broke open
and the guests were taken into the Command Trailer and Patio area
for shelter. What followed was the most intense rain shower we had
seen in the 10 days of field work.
As we waited, hoping for the weather to clear,
presentations were given to the guests on the Patio's back wall
screens, used normally for displaying operational status. Jaret
Mathews (JPL) presented videos of various tests that had already
been conducted by the two ATHLETE systems, including moving the
PRC, climbing hills, and manipulating drills and buckets with its
limbs. Susan Lee and Terry Fong (ARC) presented videos of post processed
images from the K-10 vehicles, showing its ability to mosaic images
taken at multiple exposures (shutter) settings to provide high contrast
inspection images, even in the intense sunlight. Joe Bibby and Rob
Ambrose (JSC) played several videos of the Centaur system conducting
field geology, handling samples, and manipulating softgoods while
driving over modest terrain. Chris Culbert gave an overview of the
approach taken by the team, and links to the LAT and other ETDP
After answering a few questions, the weather
cleared enough for the team to reset their experiment, and give
it a try. For the rest of the day, small showers erupted, and the
team adeptly stopped and re-started their operations. The many days
of test and practice paid off, as each test was completely successful.
The Coordinated Field Test used the SCOUT, Centaur,
ATHLETE and K-10 robots as part of an EVA team, combining them with
two suited subjects. The human-machine EVA team worked through a
scenario derived from ESAS Sortie and Outpost requirements. The
humans rode into the test site aboard SCOUT, driving it in an onboard
control mode. Dismounting, they walked to the Pressurized Robot
Container (PRC) mounted on an ATHLETE. The ATHLETE system was "kneeling",
in a low stance with a small ramp that would allow the suited subjects
to climb into the PRC, despite the 200lb packs they were carrying
in Earth's 1g gravity. Once inside, the suited subjects began a
recharge of their suits, as they would do in a emergency, or as
a technique for extending their suit's range beyond the mass they
were carrying on their backs. The PRC was outfitted with two donning
stations for the suits, allowing them to recharge while the structure
held the suit's weight, giving the test subjects a well deserved
rest. During the human's recharge, Centaur and K-10 went into action,
servicing the SCOUT rover. Centaur approached SCOUT, navigating
through an obstacle strewn work site, and autonomously positioning
itself at the rear equipment tray on SCOUT, using laser and vision
sensing. Finding an EVA sample box, it reached, felt, grasped and
extracted the box in a fully autonomous mode, turning to place the
box on its rear work bench, and then driving clear of Scout's next
move. The K-10 rover performed a 360 circumnavigation of SCOUT,
taking images at multiple exposures to be used in vehicle inspection
and EVA closeout documentation. K-10's Work was also autonomous,
and it was able to avoid obstacles in its path. SCOUT was then driven
to a new position in an un-crewed control mode, using GPS way points
previously recorded and in SCOUT memory, driving out of camp and
on to its next task.
This scenario demonstrated EVA roles for humans
and machines, experimenting with four very different classes of
robots. While these exact robots and suits will not go to the moon,
the functions of driving, carrying, manipulating, and inspecting
are fundamental. The command & control systems behind the scenes,
while hard to see, are equally important. These technologies and
approaches worked, but there were numerous things that did not work.
Fortunately, Spring and Summer testing had found these problems,
and the Engineers had found alternative solutions- but not before
learning something new.
Following this successful run, the group broke
for lunch and then returned for an afternoon of additional demonstrations.
Guests were trained on the SCOUT onboard control, and given the
chance to drive the rover over the desert terrain.
Centaur was driven back up to the hill top,
and between rain showers, was setup for the ATHLETE rappelling task.
During this work, and with multiple short-duration rain showers,
the team innovated a new sheltering technique, with Centaur parking
under ATHLETE with its tarp. During a dry spell, the entire rappelling
sequence was executed, taking about 25 minutes. This was an improvement
over the prior day's 40 minute run, and used many of the improvements
identified by the team. Once Centaur had extracted the tether and
was clear, ATHLETE selected and drove its screw anchor into the
hilltop. Centaur then attached the EVA tether hook, using some finesse
at the end to straighten the line, and then ATHLETE started its
rappel over the edge. The demonstration was ended there, setting
the stage for the FY07 work that will include further work in ATHETE
rappelling techniques for exploring lunar craters.
The Engineers whose work had made this field
exercise so successful were dismissed, later gathering at a local
restaurant for a well deserved celebration. A casual observer would
not have been able to tell they worked at NASA field centers separated
by thousands of miles, having become a single team and a group of
This was the worst weather
day of the field exercise, but the camp gear and shelter performed
well. As many as 6 rain showers came across the site during the
day. Approximately 0.5 inches of rain fell at the site in the mid-morning
shower, with wind gusts of ~25 MPH. Weather came in from the West,
and moved East all day. At night fall, an even larger rain storm
caused flooding in Flagstaff and left standing water at the field
The next morning crews began
disassembly of the test site and started packing equipment for the
Robonaut Grasps the Sample Box
The Athlete and Centaur Teams Stop for a Photo