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Tunxis Student’s Help NASA

Sanabria is shown with ABB’s YuMi on screen, the collaborative robot the team used as part of their research. Photo (c) Tunxis Community College

Sanabria is shown with ABB’s YuMi on screen, the collaborative robot the team used as part of their research. Photo (c) Tunxis Community College

The goal of the project was to use virtual reality technology to teleoperate a robot that would conduct maintenance or repair jobs on a rover either by itself or with a human on earth or in space.

The engineering science major collaborated with Ryan Mecham, a student from Central Connecticut State University who was also selected for the research under the direction of Haoyu Wang, Ph.D., P.E., associate professor of robotics and mechatronics engineering technology at Central.

The two students worked on hardware and software systems that would potentially enable someone to simulate and teleoperate the robot maintenance/repair processes through wearable virtual reality (VR) equipment. In their research, they had to run VR inputs through a computer they developed to recreate movement from person to robot, and run simulations.

“We custom built a computer, modify open source software, deal with technical issues, learned new software and technologies and consulted with research scientists as we worked with the collaborative robot,” Sanabria said of the 12-week project that was completed with limited resources.

Teleoperating robots for repairs has potential to dramatically increase the life span of rovers, according to Wang. The technology also enables astronauts to operate robots from the inside of a space craft, which reduces the risks of having multiple astronauts spacewalk at the same time.

“To think that two college students did the same work that a whole research department would accomplish is amazing,” Sanabria continued. “We made a lot of progress, and were successful in moving and controlling the robot,” he added. The team would like to further expand on their work to develop different movements the robot would need to perform to repair equipment. Sanabria said the coding they have finished has many different possibilities for robotic use.

Sanabria, Mecham and Wang will give a presentation on October 14 at Pratt & Whitney during the NASA CT Space Grant Consortium Expo and hope to present at the IEEE Conference at MIT in November. They are also demonstrating the technology to a company that is interested.

“We extend our congratulations to David and the whole research team for successfully finishing this ambitious project,” Tunxis President Cathryn L. Addy, Ph.D.  “It’s exciting to think about the new possibilities these students have potentially created for our space program and future technologies.”

“The research has given me a much better understanding of the skills and knowledge that I will need to acquire for a better and richer career,” said Sanabria.

After finishing the research, Sanabria resumed an internship at New England Airfoil Products, where he learned to design and manufacture airfoil blades for turbine engines. He is finishing his last semester at Tunxis this fall and plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in engineering.

Located in Farmington, Tunxis Community College offers over 60 associate degrees and certificates, including five associate degrees with engineering and technology emphases, and certificates in lean manufacturing and computer aided design. For more information on programs at Tunxis, call 860.773.1300, or visit tunxis.edu.

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