Gobal - engagement with NASA JPL and ESA in Robotics, Brain Computer Interfaces, and Secure Adaptive Systems for Space Applications - RoBoSAS

Lead Research Organisation: University of Essex


The project brings together complementary expertise from several leading research groups of the University of Essex, namely Robotics, Brain-Computer-Interfaces (BCI), Computational Intelligence and the Embedded and Intelligent Systems group to address significant challenges in autonomous systems for space applications. It seeks to significantly enhance and widen an existing collaboration for the design of autonomous embedded systems, robotics,evolutionary computing and BCI with the California Institute of Technology / NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, USA and the European Space Agency (ESA), in utilising the combination of a dedicated research programme combined with networking activities, including short-term and longer exchange visits of both academic staff and researchers, student placements and joint workshops to be held as part of conferences.
In order to achieve our primary aim of engineering a robust and reliable autonomous robotic systems capable of adapting to a rapidly changing dynamic environment, we will explore employing hybrid techniques that are better able to face the issues emerging from space applications than any technique in its own right. For example, very limited work has been carried out to use the concept of empirical non-intrusive monitoring that drives the self-healing process of an embedded robotic system that operates in a potentially hostile environment, such as space. This project will explore this.
A further major factor to address is that of secure communications. Security of communication is of paramount importance in space applications. The scientific impact and the investment associated with them are simply too great to risk an unauthorised breaking into a satellite or a spacecraft, or remotely taking a rover for a joy ride on a planet. While data encryption techniques are now highly sophisticated and well established, encryption itself cannot necessarily protect against fraudulent data manipulation when the security of encryption keys cannot be absolutely guaranteed. So, additionally, the programme will explore enhancing the significant existing research collaboration between the partners in deriving encryption keys directly from properties of digital systems (ICmetrics, this term stems originally from NASA JPL).
Also, the possibility of controlling external devices using brain-computer interface technology could have a tremendous influence on strategic plans for future space missions. Indeed there is interest both at ESA and JPL in this area. Essex has historically been leading in this area. The Essex BCI group was one of the three partner institutions who were contracted by the European Space Agency in 2006 to produce a critical review of non-invasive BCI with a look at future perspectives for space applications. This study was one of the first of its kind. The possibility of using BCI in space applications has since been explored by a small number of studies. In this project we will explore a number of avenues with a top quality research team of BCI researchers, computer scientists and space experts.

Planned Impact

This global engagement project will generate significant impact both within the intended application domain and more generally with significant interaction between the research groups involved.

Essex has collaborated closely with NASA JPL on the development of ICmetric technology---the term itself derives from work at JPL--and thus have an ongoing relationship in a strong area to which the UK has a strategic interest. JPL also choose to work with Essex to develop this technology, futhermore JPL and ESA have a long standing interaction in the area of BCI. Funding is required to further develop this relationship and ensure we are able to fully exploit it, and this call is an ideal fit to further this. It should be noted that Essex has patented technology in this area and JPL has unique research facilities and expertise to further develop this work rapidly.

The bid will naturally pump prime close collaboration with a leading US research institution which will significantly aid our future research potential.

The bid will naturally:-
- Enhance research by allowing access to unique facilities and expertise not available at our institution and provide an enhanced experience for our researchers at academic, postdoctoral and postgraduate level
- Enhance the strength of future follow-on research proposals which would be built on the experiences gained during the proposal and further cement the partnership with a world leading institution such as NASA JPL and ESA.

Commercial Impact
The project will have direct impact NASA JPL Robotics division and their work in research and development of highly autonomous robots for unmanned space exploration. NASA is core driving force in space in space exploration and commands the majority of the expenditure in this area. Applications developed from this research will be promoted and championed by our project partners in NASA JPL robotics to the relevant parties in NASA and through our partners at ESA to the European space industry.
Beyond he impact on the space industry there is also an secondary impact that the techniques and architectures will have on the ICT industry, robotics R&D and microelectronics.

Educational Impact
The nature of the project in robotics and space applications is also likely to have potential to attract school children towards a career in science and engineering. Essex has significant annual schools liaison with many local schools and workshop events at different times each year and we will integrate outcomes for from project exemplars within these events. This has the many advantages of:-
- potentially making the work of the project work easily available to children
- increasing the profile of the schools workshop events themselves making them more popular
- may be achieved at relative little cost to the project itself as these popular schools events already exist.

National Importance
The proposal addresses two major areas of current research priorities in the UK in the form of space technologies with autonomous vehicles (see section 2.10 of the BIS "Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth" document http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/innovation/docs/i/11-1387-innovation-and-research-strategy-for-growth.pdf published in December 2011) and cybersecurity (multiple references in BIS strategy document). The area of cybersecurity (adressed through the ICMetrics technology) particularly represents a domain which the Government is now recognising as a major area which needs to be addressed to ensure economic prosperity and national security, as witnessed by recent initiatives from EPSRC (where this proposal is clearly focused in areas that EPSRC wishes to grow as part of their "shaping capability" and "national importance" re-focus of research funding), the MOD and other government agencies.


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Ali Alheeti K (2018) Intelligent intrusion detection in external communication systems for autonomous vehicles in Systems Science & Control Engineering

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Chen L (2013) Towards autonomous localization and mapping of AUVs: a survey in International Journal of Intelligent Unmanned Systems

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Matran-Fernandez A (2017) Brain-Computer Interfaces for Detection and Localization of Targets in Aerial Images. in IEEE transactions on bio-medical engineering

Description The research produced key findings in 3 areas:
+ multi brain computer interface controls can be more effective than single brain control
+ device characteristics can be used to produce an electronic equivalent of a fingerprint that can be used to generate cybersecurity grade identifiers.
+ novel robot control paradigms were contributed.
Exploitation Route All of these findings are used in our current research, the security technology is being commercialised
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Healthcare,Security and Diplomacy

Description The output of this project has been used in the startup Metrarc detailed elsewhere.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)
Impact Types Economic

Description Motion Systems Perspectives Conference 2016 (Klaus McDonald-Maier) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Klaus McDonald-Maier presented research at the Motion Systems Perspectives conference in Jena, Germany. This was a large conference with academics and media in attendance, and resulted in several related approaches from the audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.motionscience.uni-jena.de/conference/