Pervasive Subtasks And Capabilities 481 Acquiring imagery

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When a repair is completed, it is useful to take pictures of the finished work. These are typically referred to as "close-out" images. They allow the crew to evaluate their work after they are back inside. If they determine that additional work needs to be done based on this analysis, plans can be made for an additional EVA or resupply of parts as appropriate.

Imagery is also used to improve situational awareness. Working in a spacesuit not only limits peripheral vision, but also forward vision and range of motion. It is more likely for a space-suited crew member to bump into something, or get snagged on something that was not noticed, than it would be for a person working in a shirtsleeve environment to have a similar accident. NASA requires that two people go out on each spacewalk - one has a buddy in case of trouble. Having a robot that can function as a "buddy", watching out for problems (perhaps being controlled by a human who remains inside) can be useful.

The ability to see the work site makes a critical difference in the difficulty of doing the task (try using a screwdriver in total darkness!). Robots need visual information to an even greater extent than do humans, because they generally lack the tactile feedback that a human would have.

When astronauts are performing maintenance during a spacewalk, having a camera on the end of a manipulator would allow them to peek around corners or under things. A "flying eyeball'' (Figure 4.4) for inspection of the exterior surface of the spacecraft or habitat helps identify problems, assess work sites, find leaks, and in general allows better planning before the extra-vehicular activity (EVA) begins. On a planetary surface, having a camera on the end of a manipulator might allow the crew to choose samples for inspection prior to bending over (or deploying a specialized extention tool) to pick them up. This would eliminate the amount of repetitive activity and decrease fatigue (many of the rocks that seem interesting enough for a closer look often turn out to be similar to a sample that has already been collected, in which case the new sample is discarded).

This imagery capability is also central to landing site survey and qualification. We must see what the ground looks like so that we can plan ahead for challenges, or even decide to pick another location for the initial base camp. Site surveys require mobility and the ability to capture images. Since they do not involve manipulating objects, they are among the easiest things to do with robots. Appendix A lists additional pervasive capabilities that should be developed early.

Figure 4.4. AERcam-Sprint. The ball in the left panel is a robotic camera designed to float about a space shuttle and the International Space Station and take pictures. The right panel shows a model of AERcam-Sprint in use in the Shuttle payload bay. AERcam-Sprint is NASA's first Autonomous Extra-vehicular activity Robotic Camera (AERCam).

Figure 4.4. AERcam-Sprint. The ball in the left panel is a robotic camera designed to float about a space shuttle and the International Space Station and take pictures. The right panel shows a model of AERcam-Sprint in use in the Shuttle payload bay. AERcam-Sprint is NASA's first Autonomous Extra-vehicular activity Robotic Camera (AERCam).

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