NASA and Sony are partnering to a project called Mighty Morphenaut—a PlayStation VR demo that will allow them to practice controlling a humanoid in space. The space robot is known as the Robonaut 2. The VR demo recreates the Robonaut’s environment, which would be a simulated space shuttle, to effectively learn how they can maneuver the robot to complete tasks in space.
The Mighty Morphenaut demo runs on Sony’s PS4 and a PlayStation VR headset, and it allows astronauts and techs to operate the robot in its environment in real time. This helps operators to practice moving the space humanoid with better accuracy and not have to worry about lags or delayed communication.
Ultimately, the PlayStation VR demo has helped to understand the lag and how it affects the movement of the humanoid. The report points out that the demo takes those delays into account and introduces "ghost hands" that react to the operator, while the robot's movement follow later. However, it has yet to address possible issues of floating or moving objects and how to anticipate where they will go.
Still, the technique marks a leap forward towards addressing key challenges behind the operation of space robots. Currently, NASA is continuing its research on VR as a way to address challenges behind space exploration and is looking into other VR technology as well.
“I’m pretty good at it because I’ve done it a lot,” said Richard Marks, head of Sony’s Magic Lab, in the report. However, he notes that the lag has proved to be a problem for many beginners: “Usually when we put people in they can’t do anything.” And to that end, this development helps to speed up the learning process.
Marks goes on to assert that, while this demo is a simulation, it will not be problematic to overlay the ghost hand visualization onto real footage, making this technique a possible solution to one of the key challenges of operation dexterous space robots effectively.