November 28, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Anne Petzold finds that robots might help long space flights just by being good company

RobonautNew frameworks have been developed to design objects that ensure physiological and psychological well-being of astronauts in long duration flights.

The constraints of object design for long-duration space travel naturally differ from ordinary object design, but can be informed by a range of state-of-the-art explorative design solutions that have tried to alleviate some of these concerns.

In a recent article in Acta Aeronautica, Tibor Balint and Ashley Hall from the Royal College of Art use research focusing on emotional design and user experience by Ortíz Nicolás at Imperial College, to propose a conceptual framework for the design of objects for long-duration space flight. They take into account more than the technical functionality of an object and instead aim to promote the psychological well-being of astronauts as well.

The approximate time it takes to travel to Mars is nine months, and any objects brought on the journey would be immensely restricted. Aside from physiological stress, astronauts may suffer from debilitating psychological stress due to the risky nature of the journey, social isolation and confinement, sleep disruption, sensory deprivation and/or plain boredom.

Balint and Hall list several promising examples of human-object interaction that could directly inform aeronautic object design. For instance, smart light installations can manipulate our perception of space to efficiently increase its perceived expanse, alleviating a sense of confinement. And a robot or artificial intelligence system may be an efficient way to alleviate feelings of boredom and isolation.

Balint and Hall close with a loose list of ‘design principles’ for objects used in long-duration space flight, focusing on their psychological user needs

Anne Petzold is a second year PhD student studying neuroscience

Image: Robonaut shaking hands with Tibor Balint (with permission)