NASA Haughton-Mars Project announces successful field test of smart glove

The NASA Haughton-Mars Project (HMP), with collaborating organizations SETI Institute, Mars Institute, NASA Ames Research Center, Collins Aerospace, and Ntention have announced the successful field test of a smart glove, which could be used in future human exploration of the Moon and Mars. The smart glove utilizes a human-machine interface (HuMI) allowing astronauts to control robots, drones and other types of technology, via a number of basic hand gestures.

The glove could be used in NASA’s Artemis Program, which is set to be the next crewed moon landing, planned for 2024, and could play a vital role in establishing a sustainable, long-term presence on and around the moon. The Artemis Program is set to include more elaborate surface extra-vehicular activities (EVAs) in comparison to the Apollo Program, requiring spacesuits to allow for easier mobility or to harness other technologies to compensate for the limited mobility.

The field test took place at the Haughton Mars Project research station on Devon Island in the Canadian High Arctic. This location, often referred to as Mars on Earth, due to its close resemblance to the red planet is also home to the Haughton meteorite impact crater, which has played a vital role in the advancement of planetary science and exploration through field studies.

The smart glove was designed by Ntention, start-up company founded and run by students at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway. It was originally designed for controlling drones and other robots by simple single-hand gestures on Earth and tests have been carried out remotely operating commercial drones. However, the drones that will be used on the Moon will look rather different as rotors will not function with the lack of atmosphere. Scientists are now looking to gas thrusters to propel drones in space. Mars, which has a substantial atmosphere, although thinner than Earth’s, may require drones to use either rotors or thrusters, depending on the altitude of the sites where they would fly.

The glove is fitted with a micro-controller which reads the smallest of movements and transfers that signal to a teleoperated device. System development engineer at Ntention, Sondre Tagestad, explains how it works, “The sensors capture even subtle motions of the hand and fingers and wirelessly transfer these to a mobile device that controls the drone or any other robot.” 

A planetary scientist with the SETI Institute and the Mars Institute, and director of the NASA Haughton-Mars Project at NASA Ames Research Center, Dr. Pascal Lee, spoke about Ntention invention saying, “A smart glove-equipped spacesuit could be a solution. With it, astronauts could easily control a range of robotic assets, making science and exploration operations on the Moon, Mars and at other destinations more effective and productive”.

Further field tests with applications to the control of other types of robotic assets such as robotic manipulators, rovers, and other planetary exploration systems are expected. But initial results are looking promising with the potential to not not only increase comfort and movement for astronauts but to change the way humans are able to explore and investigate planets and moons.