University of Maryland

The Intersection of Humans and Robots

Particularly in the space field, there has long been an "us versus them" mentality between humans and robotics. While the "either-or" meme still persists, there is real potential in a close partnership - bordering on a symbiosis - between humans and robots. This talk will focus on results of research into human-robotic teams for space, undersea, and medical rehabilitation, and will project into a future where space suits are robotic systems, granting superhuman capabilities to their wearers.


David L. Akin is an Associate Professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Maryland, where he is also the Director of the Space Systems Laboratory and of the Institute for Dexterous Space Robotics. He received the Bachelor of Science degree in 1974, the Master of Science in 1975, and the Doctor of Science degree in 1981, all from the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His current research spans the range of space operations from purely manual activities such as extravehicular activity and bioinstrumentation, through advanced dexterous robotic systems design and operations, to space applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He was the Principal Investigator on the Experimental Assembly of Structures in EVA, a flight experiment on board Space Shuttle Mission 61-B, and for the ParaShield Flight Test Experiment on the American Rocket Company SET-1 mission. He has recently been Principal Investigator on a number of advanced robotics programs, including the Ranger Telerobotic Shuttle Experiment, experimental verification of the Hubble Robotic Servicing and Deorbit Mission, MORPHbots, robotic systems for deep-submergence sampling from autonomous undersea vehicles, and exoskeletal robots for shoulder rehabilitation. Dr. Akin was a member of the NASA Telerobotics Intercenter Working Group, the NASA Space Science Advisory Committee, and the Independent Review Team for the Mars 2003 Rover mission. He is currently a member of the AIAA Space Automation and Robotics Technical Committee. He has written over seventy-five papers on aerospace systems design, EVA, teleoperation, robotics, and space simulation.