Astronaut Experience Inspires Single-Handed Drone Flight Controller

Astronaut Scott Parazynski has flown airplanes, climbed Mount Everest, and scuba-dived deep in a volcanic lake—but he suggests floating in space was like almost nothing else he’s at any time experienced. He liked “the independence floating in space gives you, the capacity to transfer correctly in 3D space”—and the experience assisted inspire and notify his newest creation: a joystick that puts all the most important drone fight controls into a one hand and will one working day, he hopes, revolutionize robotic surgical procedures.

Astronaut Scott Parazynski friends into a window of the Worldwide Place Station all through a spacewalk in 2001. Just after he retired from NASA, Parazynski launched a enterprise making use of his experience instruction and in space to style and design a new controller for drones. Image credit: NASA

Parazynski put in seventeen yrs as an astronaut and done 7 spacewalks, like 4 in a one space shuttle mission, getting the 2nd astronaut at any time to attain that feat. In the final, unplanned spacewalk of the 2007 mission, he went farther from the airlock than any past astronaut to mend a broken solar array.

Shifting by means of zero gravity allowed maneuvering that just is not possible when gravity is a issue, he recalls, describing how you can manipulate your route not just going back and forth, sideways, and up and down (the x, y, and z axes), but by means of rotations (pitch, yaw, and roll). “There’s a precision of flight you get when you are going in space. It’s definitely lacking in all the strategies we transfer in this article on Earth.”

In whole, Parazynski put in additional than forty seven several hours spacewalking in his additional than eight months in orbit, and he put in many, many additional several hours and months instruction for the experience. “I flew the robotic arm aboard the space shuttle, I assisted assemble the space station arm,” he suggests, “and I put in a good deal of time instruction in a virtual coach acquiring ready for flight, making use of the translational hand controller and rotational hand controller for the robotic arm and simulator.”

This is typical working course of action, points out Eddie Paddock, who manages the virtual reality laboratory the place astronauts practice at Johnson Place Center. For example, there are both ground simulators and onboard simulators for all the various robotics on the space station.

Several of those are two-handed, as Parazynski noted, with one hand managing translational motion (ahead, sideways, and vertical) and the other managing rotational motion. Astronauts spend around 6 months instruction on the ground for operations like motor vehicle seize, Paddock suggests, and then will brush up yet again on board in advance of the precise attempt.

Image credit: Fluidity Systems

Also, in advance of any EVA (extravehicular activity, the complex term for a spacewalk), each individual astronaut is also necessary to full 4 to eight two-hour instruction sessions, as effectively as an on-orbit refresher, on the SAFER procedure, the spacesuit jetpack that activates in an emergency if the astronaut’s tether to the station were to snap.

In the SAFER procedure (SAFER stands for Simplified Support for EVA Rescue), a one, modest hand controller pops out of the suit, Paddock suggests. The controller “controls 4 levels of independence in each individual manner: x, y, z, and one axis of rotation (pitch) in one manner, and then with a push of a button, can swap to rotation manner, to manage pitch, yaw, and roll, as effectively as x.”

Technologies Transfer

Parazynski took all the experience he had with astronaut robotics controllers as effectively as aircraft joysticks into his upcoming enterprise as an entrepreneur. But it was his experience as a medical professional that initially gave him the idea.

Just after he retired from NASA, Parazynski, who also holds a health-related diploma and educated in emergency medication and trauma, took a position as the main engineering officer at a medical center in Houston. When he commenced to seem at robotic surgical equipment, he was not impressed.

“Of program a grasp surgeon can have excellent results,” he emphasizes, and in fact robotic surgical procedures has led to many safer, significantly less-invasive surgical processes. But the equipment are clunky, he seen, and have to have a good deal of hands-on instruction on elementary maneuvers. “If a surgeon only does a robotic scenario each individual other week, results are not almost as fantastic,” he suggests.

He noticed an chance to use his space and piloting experience with hand controllers to construct a little something greater. He teamed up with George Guerrero and founded a enterprise, Houston-based Fluidity Systems Inc., to build a greater controller for robotic surgical procedures.

“What’s definitely fascinating, the core tech goes back to the Mercury Program,” Parazynski suggests, referring to joysticks for rotational manage. In the earliest designs for the Mercury spacecraft, yaw (rotation around a vertical axis) was managed with foot pedals. Even so, due to the fact of substantial g-hundreds, the way spacesuits restricted leg motion, and general body weight and space restrictions, engineers needed as a substitute to build a three-axis rotational hand controller for yaw, pitch, and roll.

“Fast-ahead quite a few many years and supplemental innovation, and we have the FT Aviator, our initially item, which enables us to transfer in up to 6 levels of motion with a one hand.”

Benefits

Fluidity Tech launched the FT Aviator with a Kickstarter marketing campaign in November 2018, increasing over $a hundred,000 and generating hundreds of pre-orders. But as the identify implies, it’s a controller for aviation, specifically for flying drones, rather than robotic surgical procedures.

Not like most typical drone controllers that use two-thumb joystick models, the FT Aviator puts all the most important drone flight controls in one hand, freeing up the other hand to full other jobs, this kind of as managing an onboard camera. The controller also has a mount for a smartphone, letting the operator to quickly see the “drone’s-eye see.” Image credit: NASA

Medical procedures is even now the top aim, Parazynski suggests, but the method of acquiring Fda approval is long and arduous, so in the meantime, to start the organization and begin turning a earnings, the enterprise determined to use its controller to the drone current market. “It’s one of the most swiftly increasing industries and has a much lower bar for regulatory hurdles,” he suggests.

The FT Aviator is at the moment appropriate with a selection of models from drone-maker DJI, which delivers a application developer kit created to empower third-bash components. But after a substantial-profile visual appearance at well-liked electronics trade demonstrate CES in Las Vegas in January 2019, the place it was named a CES Innovation Awards 2019 Honoree, Parazynski explained he was fielding conferences with other providers fascinated in partnering with Fluidity Tech to combine the new controller—including helicopter brands and surgical and health-related production providers.

The greatest advantage of the new controller, Parazynski suggests, is that it is much additional intuitive than the sector-typical, two-thumb joystick models. With FT Aviator, the pilot grips the controller with the whole hand, resting the thumb at the top rated. That indicates the thumb tip motion correlates to the motion of the aircraft: “You carry up your thumb, you are heading to climb. If you push ahead, you’ll transfer ahead. And so on. Within a make any difference of times, your surrogate drone is your thumb tip and you are weaving by means of the sky like Luke Skywalker,” he suggests.

In other text, “You can fly like an astronaut.”

The other key gain is that the one joystick frees up the other hand to do non-flight-similar jobs. The FT Aviator helps make that quite easy by constructing in camera controls to the base of the unit, as effectively as a mount for a smartphone or tablet to see the camera feed or manipulate any other suitable application.

That indicates a one person can attain jobs that beforehand necessary two sets of hands, which could offer sizeable cost personal savings in businesses the place drone imagery is getting more and more important, from cinematography to true estate, roofing, and utilities inspections.

The identical added benefits use outside of drones, Parazynski emphasizes, and he sees his one-handed controller taking on new industries in the in the vicinity of upcoming. “We can use our engineering in a vast assortment of applications, but we wouldn’t automatically want or need to have to build a new controller for each individual application. We can be a service provider of a clever human-equipment interface—the underpinnings of the controller that other providers could then construct around.”

To understand additional about other technologies you use in everyday everyday living that originated with NASA, be sure to go to Spinoff.

Resource: NASA


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