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Excerpt from Computer Design

April 1992
NASA EYES RANGE OF FUZZY CONTROL IDEAS IN SPACE
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NASA has recently reported encouraging research results in a


number of areas using fuzzy logic. One of the most advanced
projects is a controller for space shuttle proximity operations,
i.e. maneuvering around or keeping position with respect to
another object in space. Work has been progressing on a fuzzy-
based translational controller which deals with the parameters
of azimuth and angle and their respective rates of change, and
the range and rate of change of range with respect to another
object.

NASA engineers developed natural language rules to run the


controller and are testing it in a multi-vehicle simulation by
substituting the fuzzy controller for the simulator's normal
human inputs. The rule base was learned from the experience of
human operators and the efficiency of the controller was tuned
based on flight profiles recorded from actual missions and
simulations. One of the main advantages in developing the fuzzy
translational controller were that the engineers did not need to
construct a detailed mathematical model of the system in
advance. Performance was honed through simulation and
experience.

The results of simulations have been encouraging, especially in


terms of fuel efficiency. In holding position with respect to
a target, the fuzzy controller required significantly less
acceleration (i.e. smaller increments of position change) than
did the human controlled simulation. In overall maneuvers, the
fuzzy controller has shown a 20% to 70% better fuel efficiency
than the currently used digital auto pilot and the best
simulation runs of human pilots.

NASA is also exploring other applications of fuzzy control in


space. Among the projects being considered are the use of
inexpensive cameras for constant tracking of objects around the
space station, fuzzy control can contribute to collision
avoidance systems, robot arm control and traffic management.
At the great distance of interplanetary space where it can take
20 minutes to send a signal and receive an answer, robotic
systems will have to operate quasi-independently. A fuzzy
controller on an unmanned Mars rover vehicle is expected to help
the rover avoid obstacles and identify and collect soil samples
based on imprecise sensor input and only partially known
conditions.

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