Avatar Explore: Autonomous Robotic Operations Performed from the ISS (Avatar Explore) - 06.18.15

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Avatar Explore: Autonomous Robotic Operations Performed from the ISS (Avatar Explore) involves a mobile robotic test-bed located in the Mars Emulation Terrain at the Canadian Space Agency headquarters in St. Hubert, Quebec which will be remotely operated from the International Space Station.
Science Results for Everyone
Is a remote-controlled rover ready for Mars? For this experiment, an astronaut on the space station controlled a robotic rover on Earth using little bandwidth, meaning that the robot had to be fairly autonomous. Increasingly complex missions were conducted, ending with the rover locating and navigating to a thermal source beyond the visible horizon. The experiments provided significant validation of autonomous navigation, including path planning and terrain modeling, and demonstrated the feasibility of remote control from space of an exploration rover on a celestial body below.

The following content was provided by Pierre Langlois, and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details


Principal Investigator(s)
Pierre Langlois, Space Technologies, St. Hubert, Quebec, Canada

Erick Dupuis, Space Technologies, St. Hubert, Quebec, Canada

Space Technologies, St. Hubert, Quebec, Canada

Sponsoring Space Agency
Canadian Space Agency (CSA)

Sponsoring Organization
Information Pending

Research Benefits
Information Pending

ISS Expedition Duration
March 2009 - March 2010

Expeditions Assigned

Previous ISS Missions
Increment 20 was the first increment that introduced Avatar Explore.

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • Avatar Explore: Autonomous Robotic Operations Performed from the ISS (Avatar Explore) involves an astronaut onboard the ISS operating a four-wheeled rover as it scans the Mars Emulation Terrain located at the Canadian Space Agency headquarters for a possible geothermal source.

  • The crewmember will evaluate data through a graphical user interface rendered on a laptop. This interface features a map of the MET and displays the location of the rover.

  • Avatar Explore is the first terrestrial rover ever controlled from space.

ISS Science Challenge Student Reflection

ISS Science Challenge Selected Project
Learning about new innovations always helps me think about how I can help my world. By doing both the Avatar Explore and the SLICE topics, I was able to learn how communication and the search for cleaner energy are the forefront in technological innovation. It makes me ask myself what I would like to be a part of when I grow up especially since I am working my way towards engineering. These topics showed me that there is so much more to engineering than I thought; that there is such a wide array of topics to choose from and it constantly makes me rethink my perception on engineering and innovation.
(This was a very informative activity. I never knew NASA did so many different tests and experiments; I mean I know you guys did a lot but the sheer number of experiments posted on the site still amazed me!)
- Abishek, Grade 11, Thomas Jefferson High School, Federal Way, Washington

Avatar Explore: Autonomous Robotic Operations Performed from the ISS (Avatar Explore) promises to advance operational protocols, and to evolve Canadian Space Agency (CSA) developed communications and robot autonomy software. The Avatar Explore experiment will build upon the foundation of information, including the transfer of data at low bandwidth to control a robotic experiment from space. Avatar Explore intends to identify the features that are required for efficient human-rover collaboration, so a crewmember can take 15 minutes of time to understand the rover’s status and provide it with goals for the rover to get to and make measurements that will help the human-rover team find a target on the surface.

The mission of this technology demonstration consists of the exploration of the Mars Emulation Terrain (MET) located at the Canadian Space Agency in St. Hubert, Quebec to search and identify a target thermally distinct from the rest of the environment. The exploration will be conducted by a rover, named "Red,” operated by a crewmember onboard the ISS. The rover is equipped with a three-dimensional (3D) laser range scanning sensor, a thermal imager, and a six-axis inertial measurement unit. An ISS crewmember will interact with "Red" while aboard the International Space Station. The goal is to guide the rover to a heat source hidden on the MET. In real life, this source could be methane, a unique geological feature, or even life!

Avatar Explore aims to have a human successfully cooperate with a semi-autonomous rover to locate a heat source and drive to it. Other missions where the heat source is placed at different locations will be attempted, and the experimenters will attempt to identify the features that make the human/machine interaction effective, and those that are not productive. This will be in the context of a crewmember that is not dedicated to this single task, and has no prior knowledge of the terrain. Avatar Explore is the first terrestrial rover ever controlled from space, demonstrating the capacity to have a crew orbiting a moon or planet and perform remote supervision of rovers to find a landing spot, do ground truthing or conduct science.

Information exchanges for Avatar Explore is performed through file exchange to simulate a low-bandwidth channel, which is a common feature of planetary operations. The crewmember will analyze the telemetry files received from the rover and prepare a command file that is sent to Earth. Once the command file is received, "Red" will open the file and execute the instructions. All the data acquired during execution will be stored and sent back to the crewmember for another iteration of the process. The crewmember will analyze this data and designate destinations for the rover to navigate to autonomously. "Red" will be instructed to take more laser scans and thermal images to locate the heat source. The scans will then be blended into a composite of 3D topographical data and two-dimensional thermal images.

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Space Applications
As humans travel further into the solar system, we will increasingly rely on robots to access difficult environments. The Avatar Explore Mars simulation will one day become a reality. By contributing Canadian technology and experience now, our ability and capabilities to play a vital and dynamic role in future space exploration is improving.

Earth Applications
Avatar Explore is intended to encourage aspiring researchers with a vision in remote communications to pursue research opportunities in space robotics, which will inevitably lead to advancements in operational protocols.

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Operational Requirements
There is no upmass and downmass required for Avatar Explore. Avatar Explore requires the use of an A31p laptop or a T61p SSC laptop found on the International Space Station, running the Windows XP operating system and Internet Explorer enabled with JavaScript.

Operational Protocols
The Avatar rover is located in St. Hubert, Quebec and navigates in the MET which is 30m x 60m. The rover is equipped with a Lidar and an infrared camera, both mounted on a panning unit. The first feedback the ISS crewmember receives is a Lidar measured 3D map of the rover’s immediate surroundings, along with an infrared panorama, so the crew can start looking for a thermal source.

The crew uses a graphical user interface to select destinations for the rover, where more infrared panoramas will be taken. To simulate the narrow bandwidth, the user may request more panoramas that can be downloaded in a single turn (pass). The data not requested are stored on the rover’s hard-disk and can be requested later, as required.

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Results/More Information

Information Pending

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Results Publications

    Dupuis E, Langlois P, Bedwani J, Gingras D, Gendron M, Salerno A, Allard P, Gemme S, L'Archeveque R, Lamarche T.  The Avatar-EXPLORE Experiments: Results and Lessons Learned. International Symposium on Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Automation in Space (i-SAIRAS), Sapporo, Japan; 2010 Aug 29 - Sep 1

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Ground Based Results Publications

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ISS Patents

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Related Publications

    Martin E, L'Archeveque R, Gemme S, Rekleitis I, Dupuis E.  The Avatar Project: Remote Robotic Operations Conducted from the International Space Station. IEEE Robotics and Automation Magazine. 2008; 15(4). DOI: 10.1109/MRA.2008.929926.

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Related Websites
Canadian Space Agency

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image Image of the Mars Emulation Terrain (MET) at the Canadian Space Agency in St. Hubert, Quebec. Image courtesy of CSA.
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image Image of "Red" autonomously exploring the Mars Emulation Terrain MET. Image courtesy of CSA.
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image Image of "Red" using a laser to scan the terrain and provide 3D images. Image courtesy of CSA.
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