What are the relative advantages of humans, robots, and human-robot teams?
Robots have been extremely important in space exploration. Among other achievements, they have traveled to all the planets in the solar system (with one currently on its way to dwarf planet Pluto and another en route to the asteroid belt), roamed the surface of Mars, and brought samples of a comet and the solar wind to Earth. They will no doubt continue to demonstrate their value alongside humans in future missions to the Moon, Mars, and elsewhere. But to get the most value from human-robot teams in any given mission, it is necessary to analyze mission requirements in terms of human and robotic capabilities, and to assign and schedule tasks in the most productive manner.
There are several possible architectures for cooperative systems of humans and their robotic assistants. Human controllers on Earth could operate one or more robots that are stationed at an off-Earth site, as they currently do with the rovers on Mars. A human crew in the relative safety of a spaceborne module could control robots that are working in space or on a planetary surface. Humans and robots could team up in joint extravehicular-activity (EVA) operations. In this last option, robotic help would permit the crew to focus on tasks that only humans do well, such as correcting unforeseen anomalies and failures.
The ESMD's Directorate Integration Office has engaged the START team in a series of studies to develop an optimization system, featuring an automated planning tool, for NASA's upcoming human-robot missions on the Moon.
In a separate study, the START team projected the performance improvements that are likely to develop in robotic and human-enhancing technologies during the next decade or two, and analyzed their impact on a mission to assemble a large telescope in space. In another independent project, the START team conducted a study of system architectures for a hypothetical mission to the surface of Mars, comparing the effect on productivity of various combinations of humans working with robots.
For more information, contact: Charles.R.Weisbin@jpl.nasa.gov