Background: A tactile display to increase an astronaut's situational awareness during an extravehicular activity (EVA) has been developed and ground tested. The Tactor Locator System (TLS) is a non-intrusive, intuitive display capable of conveying position and velocity information via a vibrotactile stimulus applied to the subject's neck and torso. In the Earth's 1 G environment, perception of position and velocity is determined by the body's individual sensory systems. Under normal sensory conditions, redundant information from these sensory systems provides humans with an accurate sense of their position and motion. However, altered environments, including exposure to weightlessness, can lead to conflicting visual and vestibular cues, resulting in decreased situational awareness. The TLS was designed to provide somatosensory cues to complement the visual system during EVA operations.
Methods: An EVA task was simulated on a computer graphics workstation with a display of the International Space Station (ISS) and a target astronaut at an unknown location. Subjects were required to move about the ISS and acquire the target astronaut using either an auditory cue at the outset, or the TLS. Subjects used a 6 degree of freedom input device to command translational and rotational motion. The TLS was configured to act as a position aid, providing target direction information to the subject through a localized stimulus.
Results: Results show that the TLS decreases reaction time (p = 0.001) and movement time (p = 0.001) for simulated subject (astronaut) motion around the ISS.
Conclusion: The TLS is a useful aid in increasing an astronaut's situational awareness, and warrants further testing to explore other uses, tasks and configurations.