The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has selected BluHaptics to receive new grant funding to apply its proprietary software to remote robotic operations in space. Synchronizing what a robot sees and does through advanced applications of real-time modeling, force feedback and machine learning, BluHaptics’ software addresses the challenges of latency, spatial awareness and control that have long limited robots’ effectiveness in space.

BluHaptics’ software gives humans better control over remotely operated robots, which are preferred in high-risk scenarios in subsea, terrestrial and space environments. Potential space applications of the software include operating robots to repair or perform maintenance on satellites in orbit; servicing the Space Station; or working on the lunar and Mars programs to build habitats or ensure functioning life support systems before astronauts touch down.

“Even simple tasks in space require more skill than either manual control or automation alone can provide,” explains BluHaptics CEO Don Pickering. “Our software bridges the gap between humans and machines to allow them to augment each other and work together effectively to accomplish complex, high-risk tasks.”

The new funding was announced as part of NASA’s 2017 Small Business Innovation Research program, designed to enable the agency’s future missions into deep space. Proposals were selected according to their technical merit and feasibility, in addition to the experience, qualifications and facilities of the submitting organization. BluHaptics’ Phase I SBIR contract is expected to last for six months with a maximum funding of $125,000.

The SBIR program is a seed fund created by Congress to encourage U.S. small businesses to turn government-funded research into commercial businesses. Last year, BluHaptics received a Phase II SBIR grant from the National Science Foundation to develop the company’s remotely operated vehicle (ROV) piloting software for subsea operations. The commercial release of this application for underwater manipulator arms is scheduled for summer 2017.