Mission Commander Robert Thirsk and Dr. Craig McKinley
of the Centre for Minimal Access Surgey at St. Joseph's
Healthcare Hamilton, Ontario work near the Aquarius Underwater
7, Topside Team
Day 5-7, October 15-17, 2004
Today our Aquanauts
got to try something a little different: driving a remotely operated
rover across the sea floor. This little robot, a VGTV-Xtreme, was
quite the hit. It's about as big as a laptop computer case, and
runs on two treads like a miniature tank. The operator controls
it from a small control unit with a joystick and video screen that
shows what the camera on the rover is seeing. Something very similar
to this was used to look for survivors after 9/11.
We sent it
down to the habitat and got it hooked up, but the control panel
wouldn't come on. It was noticed that the touch pad controls were
all depressed from the increased pressure inside Aquarius. It quickly
became apparent that the only solution would be to somehow get air
underneath the touch pad, so that the pressure on each side of each
button could equalize. Wasting no time, our resident surgeon Craig
got out a small suturing needle and deftly lanced each button pad.
Voila! Problem solved. We started this mission planning to do surgery
with robots. Now suddenly we were doing surgery on robots.
the crew started taking turns driving it. Our topside team was there
on scuba to evaluate and document how it operated underwater. Later,
while the aquanauts were out working on Waterlab, the ExPOC in Houston
took control and drove it around for a while. Among other things,
they were able to take it over to the area the aquanauts were working
in and see them on the camera. Just think: the ground control team
had the capability to tell the camera to "go stand over there"
to give them a better view of the crew they are watching over, and
the work they are doing. This capability is likely to be a very
common thing on future exloration missions. And you were there when
we did it for the first time… Our thanks to the gang from
American Standard Robotics, who graciously supported our evaluation
of this capability.
Two of the
major Center for Minimal Access Surgery (CMAS) objectives were performed
this weekend. The first was a hand vein suture experiment. In space
flight, astronauts are subjected to a zero gravity environment that
could potentially cause minor or severe body trauma. There are a
number of life threatening conditions which may require suturing
to control bleeding, such as deep lacerations or severed arteries.
The NEEMO crew will be testing their knot tying skills today as
they attempt to suture a fake severed vessel for the first time,
a task that may very well need to be performed by an astronaut in
space flight someday. Luckily, they will not be doing this alone:
in Hamilton, Ontario, Dr Anvari will be tele-mentoring them, guiding
them step by step as they tie the sutures.
an extreme environment sometimes calls for the assistance of a robotic
device. These devices are controlled by someone located some distance
away; this is called tele-manipulation. To give the operator the
ability to feel, these robotic devices employ a technology called
haptics. Quantifying the usefulness and limitations of Haptics was
the second CMAS objective.Haptics is the science of applying touch
(tactile) sensation and control to interaction with robotic devices.
By using special input/output devices users can receive feedback
from robotic devices in the form of felt sensations in the hand.
But there is a downside to this type of technology: time delays
can affect haptics to the point where the user cannot control the
device. On this mission the crew has been evaluating a new technology
called TiDeC. TiDeC is a time delay compensator designed to allow
a haptic-enabled device to be controlled from a distance of nearly
1,300 miles. Anvari was in Hamilton, and using TiDeC assisted haptics,
guided the crew through a series of tasks with the ability to feel
every move each other makes, even the mistakes.
We have a distinguished
VIP visiting our team in the ExPOC on Monday to observe first hand.
We'll tell you how it went in tomorrow's Topside Report.