Virtual scale model of a planet rover (1995 – 1997)
In 1995, TNO built a virtual scale model of a ‘rover’ (space vehicle) at the request of the European Space Agency ESA. Exploring the moon or an unknown planet is a complicated and dangerous undertaking. One solution is to use robots or remotely controlled rovers. To ensure the safety and progress of the operation, it is important to accurately plan the route to be taken by the rover. This is done, for example, using a “Virtual Reality” interface. To see if and how this works, TNO built a rover that was able to drive through terrain that closely resembles the soil of a planet. The rover was fully remote-controlled and could be equipped with various types of sensors and robotic arms to conduct remote-control experiments. Four TNO institutes were involved in the realization of the rover. The TNO Physics and Electronics Laboratory developed its own workstation for remote control based on virtual reality techniques. That workstation was the result of a study into simulation techniques for planetary exploration commissioned by ESTEC. The dynamic simulator of the rover included here was developed by TNO Road Transport, which also built the vehicle. The TNO Technical Physics Department (TPD) developed the rover’s controls, and TNO Construction introduced the CAPSY positioning system, which accurately registered the rover’s behaviour during testing.
Virtual reality (VR) simulation techniques within a VR environment enable remote control and planning. Using a VR interface, an operator can control a simulated rover in a virtual environment modelled after where the real rover is located. Any possible time delay in communication, for example up to 40 minutes when it comes to Mars, was also taken into account. The VR system provided ‘real-time’ feedback. The rover was deployed by ESA from 12 to 18 June 1995 as part of ESA’s demonstration of its VR activities during the International Air and Space Show at Le Bourget near Paris. There, visitors could control the vehicle remotely using a VR interface developed by ESTEC.
TNO also developed other VR applications for simulations in space.
Dynamic Rover Simulation for teleoperations in Planetary Surface Exploration, Author(s): Maas, H.L.M.M., Kuijper, F., Donkers, H.C., and Dumay, A.C.M. Journal of the Dutch Electronics and Radio Society 62(2):58-67. 1997.