Deep space human exploration missions present a number of challenges. The distance from Earth makes communication less reliable and mission management more complex, and places a greater burden on human crews. Managing the complexity of the various onboard systems, processes, and resources, including health systems, payloads, etc., will present new kinds of crew challenges and stresses not experienced in Earth orbit where the ground station manages much of the mission. Autonomous cognitive agents that act as “virtual assistants” could interact with the crew and with the onboard systems to help with tasks that would be too burdensome or time-consuming for the crew alone. Cognitive agents based on modular, extensible cognitive architectures are needed to enable effective interaction, reasoning, problem solving, and teaming with human crews. SoarTech proposes to design and develop a prototype cognitive architecture and cognitive agent that can serve as a virtual assistant to support human exploration in deep space, and to assess the feasibility of building and demonstrating a comprehensive prototype in Phase II. In performing this Phase I work, we will leverage our team’s considerable background in cognitive architectures, interactive systems, cognitive systems engineering, user-centered design, and space operations. SoarTech has been researching, developing, evaluating, and integrating interactive cognitive systems for the past 20+ years, including the design and use of cognitive architectures to develop multi-modal interfaces, synthetic teammates, and cognitive agents that allow for natural and intuitive interaction with computing systems. Our astronaut subject matter expert has over 240 days of spaceflight time over three missions on the ISS as Flight Engineer and Mission Commander.
Virtual assistants could be used spacecraft-wide, or each astronaut onboard could have a personalized assistant for his/her role. As we establish remote bases (Moon or Mars), AVA could similarly serve as assistants for the entire base or for each astronaut. Ground operations supporting those missions could also benefit from similar systems. Similar virtual assistants could support NASA researchers doing data analysis and experiment design. AVA could help astronauts on the ground in training and refreshing on specific systems or procedures.
Defense applications include helping to operate the Navy’s AEGIS weapon system, or helping in complex ISR tasks across the services. Civilian uses include virtual assistants in power and manufacturing plants to help manage, monitor, and analyze operations. Medical teams need tools that can be used to query data (e.g., medical records), to support diagnosis and for treatment assessment.