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SpacePartner – Astronaut and robot cooperation for natural and seamless task execution

SpacePartner project is a co-sponsored PhD project of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Aalto University (Aalto). The project is being financed under the ESA Network Partnering initiative which major target is to increase interaction between ESA and European universities. One other of the ESA Network Partnering program goals is to enhance space research through spin-ins from advanced non-space projects. In this case, the spin-in is to utilize the existing WorkPartner service robot to develop astronaut-robot cooperative task definition and execution capabilities.

Purpose and Scope of Activity

Research topic: "Astronaut and robot cooperation for natural and seamless task execution."

It is the idea of this Ph.D. study to focus on astronaut-robot interface development and on the efficient information sharing between astronauts and a robot. In order to optimize seamless task execution, a shared presence model of the robot and astronaut will be used. The emphasis of this work lies on the actual human robot (H-R) cooperation aspects and the development of a tele-presence system. It will be investigated what sub-systems and software is required for efficient astronaut-robot cooperation in a typical scenario, such as e.g. during EVA near the space station or on a planetary surface.

A full cooperation system will then be designed and developed for a specific set of tasks. The system will comprise a set of hardware and software sub-systems that enable natural and seamless astronaut-robot co-operation through efficient sharing of presence. Augmented reality, shared autonomy, teaching, as well as other concepts will be researched and incorporated such as to make the HR cooperation optimal for a set of selected tasks.

The work will be demonstrated using the WorkPartner robot at the end of the study.

WorkPartner cooperating with an astronaut (artistic impression),
courtesy of NASA and Aalto

Programme Outline

  1. Astronaut-robot cooperation scenario definition
  2. Astronaut-robot interface research and development
  3. Co-operation capability development
  4. Virtual model development
  5. Task teaching development
  6. Demonstration and Validation of co-operation capabilities


Projects started January 2008 and ended December 2011.

Selected Publications

Heikkilä S. S., Halme A., Schiele A., "Affordance-based indirect task communication for astronaut-robot cooperation", Journal of Field Robotics, vol. 29, pages 576–600, July-August 2012. (Bibtex, pdf)

Heikkilä S.S., Halme A., "Indirect Human-Robot Task Communication Using Affordances", Proceedings of the 20th IEEE International Symposium on Robot and Human Interactive Communication (RO-MAN), Atlanta, USA, August 2011. (Bibtex, pdf) Ro-Man 2011 best paper award winner!

Heikkilä S.S., "Affordance-Based Task Communication Methods for Astronaut-Robot Cooperation", Doctoral dissertation, Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland, November 2011. (Bibtex, pdf pdf)

SpacePartner project one page leaflet pdf, all publications and other written material and videos!

Related Links

Contact: Seppo Heikkilä or give feedback

Supported by

Jenny ja Antti Wihurin rahastoKaute säätiöWalter Ahlströmin säätiö