Don Derek Haddad Dissertation Defense

Dissertation Title: New Paradigms in Planetary Exploration through Human-Robot Collaboration within Virtual and Hybrid Space Analog Environments.


As humanity ventures further into space, the integration of robotics, teleoperation, and data visualization is augmenting our abilities to explore and interact with distant environments. Teleoperation enables remote control of robots in hazardous or extreme locations, such as in space or on other planets. Virtual environments presented through extended reality interfaces can potentially enhance situational awareness and enable intuitive control of remote robotic systems, although distance-induced latency remains a limiting factor. The first part of this research investigates some use cases, benefits, and challenges associated with the coupling of virtual environments and robots for space operations. These include addressing time delays through novel visualization from the conceptual stage to mission planning and control. The primary focus of this research component is centered around the interconnections of various robotics platforms and their digital twins, including quadruped robots and rovers, within physical and virtual space-analog sites through the implementation of innovative visualizations built with modern game engines. In its second part, the dissertation encompasses an analysis of the conceptualization, refinement, and validation of AKALL (Azure Kinect à la Luna), a software application developed in the course of this research that was subjected to rigorous testing at the NASA Ames Research Center and ultimately will be deployed by Lunar Outpost to enable the operation of an onboard RGBD camera mounted on their lunar rover. This research investigates blending elements of the real and the virtual with robotics systems. Throughout the thesis, the integration of systems within virtual analog environments is explored, through the implementation of various tools allowing users to navigate such environments and control robotic systems through design elements and mechanics inspired by real-time strategy video games. The research highlights the significance of these virtual environments in enhancing human capabilities for space exploration, while also offering insights into the construction of virtual analog environments from real-world data in combination with high-definition rendering pipelines.

Committee members:

Prof. Joseph A. Paradiso, Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences (MIT)
Prof. Dava J. Newman, Apollo Program Professor of Astronautics (MIT)
Dr. Scott W. Greenwald, CEO of Three Space Lab, and founder of MIT Reality Hack

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